You too can investigate, part 1

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Investigating is always a challenging undertaking. That is why there are few investigators. You need all round skills to lead an investigation successfully.

Every investigation is unique because the facts. You too can investigate, if you grasp two skills: (i) investigation strategy and (ii) rules of evidence. The latter is necessary because investigation is about affixing blame. Your investigation is not conclusive until you are able to ably answer all the questions well – who did what, where, when, how and why. An answer to each of these investigation questions require that you provide evidence to justify. If you don’t have supporting evidence to each of the questions, your investigation is not yet complete.

In any investigation, the presumption is that ‘matters will end in court.’ As an investigator, you must know that and prepare accordingly. Unfortunately, this is true even when the client swears that they do not intend to go to court at the start of the investigation. My experience shows that it is their strategy to try to pay less. If you know what you are going into, always be prepared for the ultimate challenge. Why? The investigation report you deliver will provide the basis for management to make career changing decisions like terminating someone after subjecting them to a disciplinary hearing process. Such people may not be satisfied and have a right to petition court. And that is when the music starts to play. If your report is full of opinions and hearsay, it will fail flat and risk exposing your client to lots of legal costs.

The basics of an investigation

Let’s take an example of your neighbor’s office. When the first staff arrives at office, they find it has been broken into. The CEO has engaged you to determine who broke into the office and stole the computers and documents that were inside. How would you attempt to identify the culprit?

The investigation

You need to perform first responder procedures – preserving the crime scene (the neighbor’s office) so that evidence is not contaminated. Avoiding spoliation of evidence is critical for having a good case. In many cases, your first actions at the scene of crime could make or break a case. The police will usually use the yellow tape to demarcate the crime scene. The objective is to preserve all the evidence as well as restrict access to the scene of crime. Some criminals try to come back to the scene of crime to try to see if they left some incriminating evidence. The objective is to try to remove such evidence, if they can. So, restricting access to the crime scene helps to prevent any ‘smoking gun’ evidence from getting lost. Taking as many photos of the crime scene is always invaluable later in the investigations. You are advised to do so.

You’ll always find a missing piece of evidence in those photos to connect the dots.

Next, you must take witness statements NOT witness interviews.

Don’t confuse a statement with an interview. In investigations, a statement of the witness is a critical piece of information. Here the witness narrates to you [the investigator] a chronology of the events leading to the incident or crime. In their statement, they provide an account of what they know, what happened, where they were, and anything they think can explain what caused the crime to happen. In their statement, they will try to explain why they should not be suspected.

Just like news journalists, all you need in a witness or suspect statement of who did what, where, when, how and why. You don’t want the suspect statement to be ‘contaminated’ so you let them recall the events as they happened. All you ask them is to write down whatever they recall about the incident. Who was there? Can they explain why those people where there? What was the witness doing at the scene? Who would have done what to ensure the incident is avoided? Did they do their work, why?

This statement is so critical because your subsequent step, predication, depends on it.

Predication is the process of evaluating the facts at hand to ascertain whether they hold water or not. If the facts make sense, then you proceed with a detailed investigation to affix blame. You must do predication to avoid spending time on cases you won’t be able to conclude, unless the case is that of murder in which case you must keep it open.

Also read: Crossing the ethical boundary; insights from a fraud investigator

Usually, anyone with motive, opportunity and means (MOM) is a suspect.

And you’ve to do the MOM assessment against all individuals mentioned in the statements of the witnesses and direct suspects above. In the next issue, we look at a sample statement and how to analyze it.

Many people spoil their good cases because they don’t know the difference between a statement and investigation interview. You don’t need to plan to take one’s statement. You need to thoroughly plan and prepare for a witness or suspect interview. In most cases, your interview is to ‘fix’ the suspect into admission for wrong doing. That takes some good planning.

Note: In my next posts, I will explore this subject fully to ensure that you get the basics right. You will see how you too can be a good investigator. Don’t settle for less from your auditors or lawyers. Have them take their work to the next level by challenging their approaches. In the end you get value for money when you ask intelligence questions.

© Mustapha B Mugisa, 2019. Your Success Partner.



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