Creative and Innovative Investigation Methods

October 20, 2019

finger prints in cold case investigations

Modern investigators have a wealth of resources, but many are becoming too reliant on databases and other computerized solutions. To that extent we rely heavily on the tried and true investigative methods. We do use computerized systems, databases, photography equipment, drones, surveillance devices, and ingenuity. When I was a supervisor of investigators I would really get upset when my investigators sat in the office all day on the computer. I would often mandate ‘office free days’ where no one was allowed in the office unless summoned. Investigators were required to be out in the field, asking questions, solving cases, interviewing people, watching, listening and learning. There are issues of training and that required attending workshops and specialized training programs to learn about ways to be better at the job. Today’s investigators need to be flexible and need the knowledge provided by others to be good investigators.

Most private investigators are also seasoned in the art of surveillance. With today’s technology, it is not only much easier but expected by clients that investigators secure video footage of numerous civil indiscretions. Parents wanting their minor children observed during prom night and other social occasions; suspected acts of infidelity; and allegations of an “unfit parent” during a custody battle are but a few instances where surveillance can be practical. Private investigators routinely conduct surveillance on insurance claimants to determine the validity of an injury, or to ensure that the applicant is not supplementing their income while drawing benefits. 

It is also customary for investigative agents to video tape or photograph defendants who are alleged to be unstable during any attempt to serve process. Quality video or photographic evidence can make months or even years of legal work worthwhile to any client. Most trial attorneys will eventually need an investigator to conduct some sort of surveillance on an opposing party. 

Covert camera systems are evolving rapidly. When conducting interviews or searching for someone, it’s not unusual to have a camera recording the conversations. I prefer that I have some audio backup so that I don’t misquote someone and it’s not unusual for a person to deny a statement later in court. I’ve had occasions when I’ve served legal papers on someone for them to deny that I served them. It’s always interesting to see the expression on their (or their attorney’s) face when I caution them against lying and I mention that the encounter was recorded. Covert cameras are easily available and serve a great service provided the equipment is the right one for the job. I’ve had clients they purchased a piece of equipment and then had to hire me alter, only because the equipment was the right thing for the job. For that reason, I encourage them to consult a professional to save them time, money and aggravation. We don’t generally use products that are “off the shelf” because they often aren’t of the quality we demand or they just don’t work as advertised. I often use a professional that custom builds my equipment and I’ve obtained great results because of that. 

Tracking is another are that had greatly assisted investigators. No longer do I have to be within eyesight of a person that we are following. I’ve had many occasions when I have been following from a distance and timed my arrival to coincide with them getting out of their vehicle and pulling some large or heavy object out of the truck of a car when they were not supposed to be lifting anything according to their injury claim. I’ve used trackers to track the errant non-custodial parent who takes their kids across state lines for the purpose of hiding them from the custodial parent.  

Digital forensics definitely has a place in today’s modern investigative tools. Having an insider’s knowledge into what a teenager’s plans are for the upcoming weekend has made a lot of parents more comfortable when who is dating their daughter. 

Computers are a great tool. Not just having the many and varied databases available to help find information but being able to analyze and track computers and the information on those computers has been a fantastic investigative asset. Everyone and every business have some type computer system. Whether to record sales or inventory records or customer information they also store video recordings that have proven to be an asset for investigators. Computers and the data stored on them is used to assist with missing children and runaways. Solving issues relating to ransomware, infrastructure attacks, identify theft, modification of electronic chips, various internet-facilitated crimes, sextortion, skimmers, general financial crimes, online drug trafficking and others keep investigators on their toes. For more details there are several good studies and papers out in the public domain including The Changing Nature of Crime And Criminal Investigations.1

Other tools used today or in the near future include: brain fingerprinting, access control devices for gaming systems, smart card forensics, biometric sensing devices, audio and video enhancement tools, signal processing tools ballistics analysis tools, cameras with 360-degree coverage, facial recognition, 3 dimensional crime scene capture devices, and many more. We’re not quite at the stage of the devices seen on television and the movies but I can assure you, someone is looking into them. 

1 CRITICAL ISSUES IN POLICING SERIES, dated July 2018 by the Police Executive Research Forum (ISBN: 978-1-934485-42-2)

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Little Rock, AR 72201. 

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