Investigators gather, study, evaluate, interpret, and report information. Because the integrity of the information we handle is vital to a case's outcome, we must preserve the integrity of the data we handle.
There are certain parts of an investigation where information is more likely to become compromised. This vulnerability occurs when the presented information differs from the information being received. We call this miscommunication a "gap," and this article focuses on the first gap of the investigation.
The first gap of an investigation is the space between the reporting person and the investigator. While both likely speak the same language, it is easy for ideas to be misrepresented, misinterpreted, and thus misunderstood. Being aware of this communication gap can help you minimize its effect and possibly avoid it altogether.
The First Gap
This gap happens when two individuals have different ideas, meanings, and contexts about the same conversation. While each person sees an event as authentic, static, and absolute, the human brain interjects a high level of subjectivity even if we think we are being objective. As a result, what we see as a "matter of fact" might be seen differently by another person. And when a reporting person passes information to an investigative agency through an investigator, we often encounter communication problems that can leave both sides feeling lost in translation.
The World Through Two Lenses
The first gap becomes evident when we climb inside the heads of a reporting person and the investigator. The reporting person often makes allegations against behavior that violates their ideas of right and wrong. They may see the event as objectively illegal and feel an investigator should easily prove their allegations.
The investigator, however, sees the incident through the eyes of a criminal statute or administrative policy. As they listen to the reporting person, they will quickly realize if the allegation lacks the elements of a violation. Or, perhaps the alleged incident does not fall under their investigative authority. In either case, the reporting person feels an injustice has been committed, while the investigator might feel like the injustice falls short of a provable violation. These two perspectives often result in conflicting expectations.
The first step to managing this gap in understanding is for the investigator to be aware of its existence. Being aware of and expecting this gap to occur can be beneficial to the investigator in the following ways:
1. Understanding the gap will help the investigator better understand the reporting person and facilitate the effective translation of information and events.
2. The investigator will be more open to asking questions that help pull out information that might seem trivial to the reporting person, but that is useful.
3. The investigator can help the reporting person understand what they need to prove the wrongdoing. This context might help the reporting person produce information that becomes material evidence.
4. At the very least, an effective interview will end with the investigator understanding why the reporting person sees some injustice while helping the reporting person have realistic expectations of what is needed to document and report the possible violation.
Differing points of view can quickly muddle communication between parties, even if they are making an effort to work together. In my experience, this often leads to interviews that finish with both the reporting person and investigator scratching their heads. One person leaves thinking, "What a lazy investigator. I handed them everything. I have pages and pages of evidence, but they don't want to see it. They don't want to do their job!"
The investigator finishes the interview thinking, "What a nut job. This person is throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. I get it that they feel this incident was not fair, but the truth is that no violations occurred, or they failed to provide any proof that it did."
Instead of the gap taking control and leaving two people at odds, it should bring the investigator and reporting person together. Effective communication happens when the reporting person understands the investigator's needs and when the investigator grasps the truth of what happened.
If the investigator does not address the gap, then both parties will fill in the blanks with their own information, which usually means they will get it wrong. Professional investigators understand that, if left unchecked, the gap creates the unfortunate opportunity for misunderstanding, bias, and data-mined misinformation to inhibit both parties from getting what they both want: justice.