Monday, December 05, 2005

So you want to be an investigator

Seen some old reruns of Magnum PI or VIP and suddenly being an investigator seems like a great career. Well it can be, but not for any reason that may be found in these TV shows. Investigations - private or public - tend to be a lot of legwork, thinking, talking, and most of all listening.

There are all kinds of investigations and investigators. On the public side are those in law enforcement, inspector generals, background investigators, and the like. Out in the world of private employment there are many different types of investigators; however each of these various jobs require nearly identical skills. So how does one become an investigator and how do they become an exceptional investigator?

For the most part, it really doesn't matter whether you are investigating a theft, an arson, or someone's background because the foundation skills are pretty much the same.

Think of it this way: An investigator is responsible for telling a story, as factually as possible. According to Sennewald there are two kinds of investigations. One attempts to reconstruct an event and explain it factually and the other attempts to uncover illegal activity. Clearly the first one is purely reactive; a homocide is committed and it is investigated. The second may be somewhat reactive but it may also be proactive; much like the efforts of Anti-crime police units or integrity shops in retail environments. So that's the big picture, but what kinds of skills does it take?

A good memory, notetaking skills, strong observation skills, and reasoning abilities (deductive and inductive). Inductive reasoning? Well it's the opposite of deductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning is often explained as the moving from the general to the specific. Inductive would be from the specific to the general. For a few examples to better describe this go here, here, here, and here.

How do you get these skills? There are many ways. Clearly the best known way is probably to work for the government and attend an academy - local or state police, FLETC, or the FBI Academy. However it is also possible to get there other ways, especially if you have no interest in being a police officer. Some companies offer training - formal or on-the-job - and some states require specific training before allowing licensing as a private investigator. But if you just want to drive yourself to being better - that is always striving to keep the edge sharp - there are training programs available.

Quite possibly the most important skill of an investigator is the interview, either the informational or the admission-seeking interview. The Reid technique is taught by Reid Associates and Wicklander-Zewlawski, and Wicklander is quite likely the standard for retail interviews. I am, however, biased since that's where I learned to interview (special thanks to Shane Sturman whose advice and guidance over those two days were invaluable). There are other methods and there are a large number of books available on the topic. Investing time in these books - and lots of practice - will pay off.

There are other helpful programs. You know I'll mention those by the IFPO. They offer the Certified Protection Officer, Security Supervision and Management, and a new program - Crime and Loss Investigations. There are other programs out there and it never hurts to do a little, dare I say, investigation to help you get what you need. There are also many books on the general topic of investigations such as Chuck Sennewald's The Process of Investigation and Dempsey's Introduction to Investigations.

You can also begin to build your skills by seeking employment (part-time can be as helpful as full-time) with private investigators, retail security departments, forensic accounting firms, or even investigative reporters.

The key to investigations is knowing what the "standards of evidence" are for whatever you are looking into at that time. The government has rules for what information is needed to "prove" a crime, and companies have rules as to what is acceptable for disciplinary actions. Know what information you need. Just keep these three questions in mind: What do we know? What don't we know? What do we need to know?

More later..