Components of a Criminal Investigation

by Tabetha Cooper
English: A crime scene. .
English: A crime scene. . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

            Before becoming a criminal investigator, there are several things that you need to know.  There are many concepts that need to not only be learned but must also be applied properly.  Being able to use the concepts of the methods of inquiry, the proper mindset to be an investigator, the scientific method, the different sources of information, is a necessity when striving to be a great investigator.
            Knowing the methods of inquiry is the first step to learning how to apply them.  The methods of inquiry are determining if a crime has been committed, as well as where, when, why, and how it committed, and what was used to do it.  After the answers to most of these questions have been answers it is important to find out who committed the crime.  After it has been decided that a crime has indeed been committed, an investigator must find out the additional information such as where, when, why, and how it happened in order to lead the investigators to potential suspects and eventually to the perpetrator of the crime.  Finding out this information starts at the scene.  Once at the scene it can be determined if the crime was actually committed at that location.  If it was, you can then try to determine when it happened.  You can also search the location for physical evidence that can lead you to the answer of what exactly happened, why it had happened, and how it happened.  You can also talk with witnesses and victims if there are any in an attempt to receive the answers to these questions. According to an article called Crime Detection (2010), victims and witnesses provide most of the facts regarding when, where, how, why, and who committed a crime.
English: A U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Co...
English: A U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command special agent processes a crime scene on an Army installation. Thirty new sexual-assault investigators will be assigned to various major Army installations worldwide to assume the lead in forming special victim investigative units in support of the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Prevention and Response Program known as SHARP. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
            A great investigator has a certain mindset that enables them to have a good work performance.  According to Osterburg and Ward (2007), an investigator must be intelligent, curious, energetic, sensitive, discrete, tactful, persistent, honest, outgoing, well spoken, and have observational skills.  With intelligence a criminal investigator will have the ability to think in unconventional ways, use technical devices, and be able to testify appropriately in court.  Curiosity, energy, persistence, discreteness, tactfulness, and observational skills are great resources when investigating a crime.  Sensitivity, honesty, outgoingness, and being well spoken are crucial aspects for an investigator when it comes to talking to victims or the families of victims.  Most investigators prove that they have this particular mindset prior to becoming an investigator, while working as a law enforcement officer.  It will be apparent on the first case an investigator works whether or not he is going to have the essential skills to be a detective.
            The scientific method is applied in every case that comes across an investigator’s desk.  The scientific method is “an analytical technique by which a hypothesis is formulated and then systematically tested through observation and experimentation” (Garner, 1999).  To make this explanation simpler, in the aspect of how it is applied to a criminal investigation, it can be broken down into five steps.  First a problem needs to be stated, in the case of an investigation it is determining whether or not a crime has been committed, and if so what type of crime.  Then a hypothesis needs to be made, such as, a murder has been committed with what appears to be a knife, but it appears this is a dump site and we still need to find a crime scene.  After the hypothesis has been made the collection of data through observation and experimentation is the next step, in a criminal investigation, this is where an investigator goes through the crime scene and collects evidence and interview witnesses and/or victims.  After the data has been collected the next step would be to interpret it.  This is when a criminal investigator would send the evidence they have collected back to the local laboratory to be analyzed and would go over the testimony from witnesses/victims and call some of them to the station for a more extensive interview.  The last step of the scientific method is to draw a conclusion, which in a criminal investigation is when an investigator has determined who has committed the crime, with certainty.  In a scientific experiment as well as a criminal investigation the “starting point is induction but the process is completed through deductive logic” skills (Osterburg, 1981).
English: Footwear impressions left at a crime ...
English: Footwear impressions left at a crime scene (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
            The article Crime Detection (2010) states that there are three important sources of information for criminal investigators, physical evidence, people, and records.  Physical evidence is the items collected at a crime scene or through additional investigation of a crime.  Weapons, bodily fluids, hair samples, fibers, impressions, fingerprints, bullet casings, and tool marks are just a few things that fit into the classification of physical evidence.  People as sources can come in the form of victims, witnesses, or informants.  Victims are the people that the crime happened to and witnesses are the people that have seen the crime first hand.  Informants can either be people on the street that have heard details of a crime and use the information to help themselves when facing legal repercussions of their own, people who know something about a crime and are willing to tell what they know for monetary gain, people who know thing and out of jealousy or rage are willing to divulge that information, or just concerned citizens who know something and are doing what is right.  Useful records include employment records, background records, tax records, phone records, utility records, military records, computer records, bank records, MO files, Rogue Galleries, wanted files, rap sheets, criminal files, penal records, and probation/parole files.
            Every investigator wishes to be the best at their job.  It has been determined that in order to do so there are several things that have to be known.  Now that you have been introduced to the methods of inquiry, the required mindset of an investigator, the scientific method and how it applies to criminal investigations, and sources of information, you can evaluate yourself and determine if you have what it takes to become an investigator.  If think you do, let the learning begin!

Crime Detection,.(2010). History.com Retrieved Feb. 4, 2010, from                                                             http://www.history.com/encyclopedia.do?articleID=206774

Editor & Chief Garner, B.A. (1999). Black’s Law Dictionary. West Group, St. Paul, Mn. Retrieved Feb. 4, 2010

Osterburg, J.W. (June 1981). Journal of Police Science and Administration. Vol. 9 Iss. 2               pg. 135-142, Retrieved Feb. 5, 2010, from                                                                                      www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=78300

Osterburg, J.W. & Ward, R.H. (2007) Criminal Investigation: A Method for Reconstructing         the Past (5th ed.) Newark, NJ. Mathew Bender & Company, Inc.

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