For most law enforcement investigators, knowledge of their state’s penal code and code of criminal procedures will get them through almost every investigation. However, investigators who work for agencies that oversee various entities do not have the luxury of being familiar with every statute, code, contract, or policy violation relevant to their investigation.
If an investigator wants to complete an investigation, they have to know what policy or law is violated. Statues and codes provide the rulebook that creates the foundation for the final investigative finding.
These statutes and policies tell the investigator things like:
The name of the offense.
The elements that must be present to have a violation.
The punishment for the violation.
The defenses to prosecution or administrative hearings.
The statute of limitations.
Any additional requirements.
If you don’t know the violation you are investigating, you don’t have a viable investigation. For investigators who work for agencies with oversight over other agencies that each contain their own programs, finding the relevant government codes, agency policies, or program requirements is often a daunting task.
I came to work at my current agency with a strong background in criminal investigations after a career of working for a specialized unit for a state police agency. I remember how lost I was when researching codes outside the penal code, like the state’s health and safety code, family code, and so on. Also, each program had its policies and procedures. Contract fraud involved requirements regulated by outside agencies that had their own relevant regulations and policies in place. In short, knowing which rules formed the foundation of your investigation was challenging.
It was very frustrating to have to research rules with which I was wholly unfamiliar and then investigate a person, program, or company that had been dealing with those same rules for decades. This disparity puts investigators at a disadvantage. Learning the information relevant to a specific case required time to conduct research and grasp the context of the new material you reviewed. To make matters worse, you had to gather documents, conduct interviews, search databases, and all the other things you do during an investigation before you even understood which rules you were examining. In short, it was a nightmare.
We are all investigators, so there are some skills we all possess, like locating people, interviewing them, and requesting documents. I put these skills to use by having my investigators conduct a short preliminary “investigation” before diving too deep into the allegations they are tasked with investigating. My team still deals with this challenge, but we now approach it entirely differently, and I would like to share this method with you in hopes that it can make life easier for you.
Here’s how it works. Investigators are given authority, encouraged, and trained to do the following:
Find the agency, program, and division involved in the investigation and schedule interviews with people up the chain of command who can explain what their program does and the correct process their employees should follow. I have them talk to people outside the chain of command of the people they are investigating and use hypothetical situations to avoid compromising their investigation. Think big picture questions that will give you the context of the battlefield.
Conduct formal, recorded interviews. The person you are interviewing will most likely be a Subject Matter Expert, and you can use the information they provide to create a baseline for your investigation.
Let these people know you are conducting an investigation and that you need their help understanding their program. Most people are happy, if not excited, to help. Give them a few hypothetical situations and ask them if that scheme is even possible, and if it is, how someone would do it. Ask them what trail they would leave behind and how they would prove it.
Ask them about rules, contract requirements, policies, statutes, etc. Then ask them to send you a copy of these relevant documents. This request will save you time from having to go out and find them yourself. Don't forget to ask for a point of contact in case you have follow-up questions.
Conducting two or three interviews of this nature before you start moving too far forward on your investigation will save you a lot of time and headaches. It will earn you information that is relevant, accurate, and timely. It will also help form relationships with people within the organization. I’ve found these contacts often pay dividends in future investigations.
So the next time you have an investigation covering materials you have not yet covered, formulate a plan to work smarter, not harder. Speak with your supervisor and see if they have any contacts or if you can see a recent report or meet with another investigator who has successfully worked the same type of case. Set up some interviews with a program’s leadership and after presenting a few hypothetical situations, find out who they recommend you speak with to get more information.
In short, instead of trying to become an expert overnight, take advantage of the expertise and insight by people who are actual Subject Matter Experts. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have them assist than try and figure everything out myself. Use your investigator skills to conduct a preliminary “investigation,” gathering important information that you will need for a successful investigation. Lastly, remember to protect sensitive data at all times.