Modern police departments can increase solvability, improve courtroom readiness and boost overall agency effectiveness. But only with the right approach to investigation case management. In this post, we’ll look at 5 things they do better than anyone else.
What comprises an investigation? Usually, it’s things like monitoring a tips and leads hotline, maintaining a database of evidence, finding connections, getting the jump on criminal behavior and closing cases.
But how do you document all of these events? Most small to medium-sized law enforcement agencies use long, unstructured narratives that are hard to parse. This is frustrating for investigators who want to locate or analyze a specific event.
Modern law enforcement agencies do things differently. In their eyes, investigations are a series of activities that must be completed as the investigation unfolds. By breaking things down, they can manage bigger cases more efficiently.
Let’s take a look at how they do it.
They Conduct Activity-Based Investigations
Modern law enforcement agencies categorize information and evidence in a way that makes it easy to visualize the contents of a lengthy investigation. These processes help them conduct “activity based investigations (ABI).”
With ABI, instead of documenting investigation findings in long narratives and supplementals, investigators fill out one specific document that correlates with one specific activity.
For example, if an officer responds to a crime scene, they fill out a worksheet detailing the activity. Whoever reads the case folder can then clearly see that an officer responded to the scene (without having to read the report). It also allows investigators to add more context and content specific to the activity.
The point of an activity-based investigation is to break an investigation down into small, manageable pieces. In the end, the investigation has a full index and timeline that essentially built itself. This makes it easier to understand the case, visualize the process for that investigation type and make the law enforcement agency more efficient.
They Streamline the Case Folder
Case folders are often jumbled and nearly incomprehensible. Activity-based investigations make them easier to understand, quantify and measure.
Certain types of investigations require certain activities. In other words, the case cannot close until specific steps are completed. With ABI, the investigation case folder can serve two purposes: solving the case and building a template for how similar investigations should be conducted.
Here’s how it works:
Search warrants are common activities in narcotics cases.
To take down a meth house, you need a search warrant. However, before you can acquire one, you need two undercover buys.
If your case folder has two separate activity worksheets detailing the when and what of two undercover buys, then you’re more likely to be approved a search warrant.
Now imagine this same scenario, but instead of worksheets you have one document consisting of paragraph after paragraph of text. The agency and judge would have to comb through just to find that one mention of two undercover buys – if it’s there.
In an activity-based investigation, the required undercover buys are easy to find without having to sift through pages of narrative. In sensitive cases, it’s a crucial time saver.
Interviewing a Witness
Activity-based investigations help officers validate that certain tasks have been completed, meaning the investigation can move forward.
For example, if a supervisor wonders why an arrest hasn’t been made, or why a particular case has gone cold, they might want to know how many interviews were conducted – and if the number is what they expect for the type of case.
In an ABI, they can easily flip back to the case folder and see how many witness interviews were conducted, and then act accordingly.
The victim of a crime must be notified every 15 days for updates on their investigation. While it seems like a menial task to record, if you didn’t have the timeline of activity worksheets, you’d have to read through the entire case folder to see when the last update was made and when you have to make the next.
They Keep Everyone Courtroom Ready
When activities are jumbled together in one document, it’s difficult for the reader – like a supervisor, prosecutor or investigator – to really understand the case. In an activity-based investigation, as soon as someone opens a folder, they get a sense of what was accomplished by looking at the table of contents.
The individual investigative action worksheets used in an ABI create an index for an entire case as it progresses. With just a glance, you can see how the activities evolved and understand at a high level what the case is all about.
Moreover, when you read a specific document, you know you’re reading about one specific action and how it contributed to the case. In this way, the case can be analyzed as it was built – in incremental, manageable pieces.
An ABI also helps the law enforcement agency make the case courtroom ready. This means they don’t have to wait until the end of an investigation to prepare. Instead, the case is constantly in a state of preparation. As activities are conducted, they are documented. As worksheets are added, supervisors can approve them. So, when the case is ready to go to court, so is the case folder.
They Make it Easy to Be Efficient
ABI helps produce more efficient law enforcement agencies. They save officers from having to search through paragraphs of narrative, which cuts out a huge amount of time and busy work.
ABIs also allow for faster analysis. For example, a supervisor wondering why their arrest numbers are down can simply look at the index of activities and notice how many documents are in there – if there are only two documents, they don’t even have to read them to know that activities that lead to arrests aren’t being conducted.
Supervisors can more easily track caseloads and assign new tasks based off of what their officers are already working on – again, without having to read through pages and pages of narrative. They can see what and where activities were completed and by whom. This gives them an accurate snapshot of a specific case, and also the entire law enforcement agency.
They Use the Right Investigation Software
By now you might be wondering why every agency doesn’t adopt an ABI documentation approach. More often than not, it’s because of an outdated or home-grown records management system (RMS).
To maximize the efficiencies ABI provides, you need the right management tool. An investigation software that’s built around investigative activities – unlike a standard RMS – will help make your agency better.
The right tool can guide workflow and procedure for how an investigation should occur. This unlocks a more efficient way of investigating – helping law enforcement agencies solve bigger cases in less time.
Ready to start building courtroom ready, activity-based investigations? ShotSpotter Investigate can help. Get in touch today to learn more.
About the Author: With more than 30 years of IT experience, Dan Leston has dedicated the last two decades to designing, developing and supporting mission critical law enforcement systems for the New York Police Department. As a trusted partner to the NYPD, Dan has worked closely with the agency to deliver records management and case management solutions.