Investigations: Speak for the Dead

Since retiring, I've written five books in the criminal justice field. I'm frequently asked to write articles for police magazines and have politely declined every one until now. Frankly, I hate dealing with amateurs. The premier issue of Law Officer changed my mind because those who contributed articles are all veteran street cops writing about tactics and technology that have a direct impact on the magnificent men and women who patrol our streets. So, I'm delighted to have accepted an offer to write a series of articles for this magazine in the area of criminal investigation.

The primary purpose of this series is to provide law enforcement officers and others in investigative positions fundamental and advanced criminal investigation techniques. The investigations field is very large, but I will concentrate primarily on investigations into the more heinous crimes murder, robbery and sexual assault and the forensic sciences that enable us to recreate the past. However, the investigative process discussed here will have utility in conducting investigations regardless of whether it's a Part 1 or Part 2 crime, and I intend to provide material that will enhance your investigative ability.

This first column has a limited amount of space, so let's start with a fundamental issue: Who does the investigator work for?

Who's in Charge
As the director of the criminal justice program at a Connecticut college, I'm often surprised that my students many of whom are police officers seem confused about who they work for. You too may be surprised to know that in a democracy, the police are part of the executive branch of government, not the judicial branch. The framers of the U.S. Constitution created a balance of power between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government with checks and balances so that no one branch would grow too powerful.

The police do not prosecute or sentence individuals. We function as independent investigators within the confines of the Constitution and take an oath of office to that aim. So, we have as much obligation to obtain evidence indicating a person's innocence as we do their guilt. We work neither for nor against prosecution.

Rather, the professional investigator uses a scientific process of inquiry to determine what happened and who, if anyone, is responsible. The evidence speaks for itself, and in a sense we speak for the dead.

Criminal Investigation Defined
Another basic tenant in criminal investigation is the meaning of things definitions. Why? Because definitions establish a framework within which the investigator practices both science and art in the unstable environment of human behavior.

So what is criminal investigation? Before reading a working definition, think about the scene of a crime. All departments have a policy or procedure about protecting the crime scene and clear direction that it's the first-arriving officer's responsibility to make certain the crime scene remains exactly as the criminal left it.

The operant idea comes from Dr. Edmund Locard's Principle of Exchange. Locard was an early 1900s French criminologist who theorized that whenever human beings interact with any inanimate or animate object, they either take something away or leave something behind. That's what forensic science is all about. We search for hairs, fibers, semen, blood, fingerprints the list is almost endless. We hope the criminal left a clue at the crime scene (or took something from the scene with them) that, if properly interpreted, will lead the investigator to determine what happened and who did it.

The textbook I'm currently using to teach criminal investigation defines criminal investigation as "the process of discovering, collecting, preparing, identifying, and presenting evidence to determine what happened and who is responsible." There are many other definitions, but they all boil down to what we learned in the police academy: the five W's and an H. Simply put, an investigation seeks to determine the who, what, when, where, why and how.

Answers to these six questions solve most cases. Husband shoots wife, wife shoots husband, daughter shoots father, son shoots father the body is there, there are witnesses and the suspect often remains on scene or nearby. Most homicides of this nature are solved relatively easily.

Why then are some cases hard to solve? Because the why (motive) and how (modus operandi) are sometimes very complicated, and if it's a stranger-to-stranger crime, the why may only make sense to the perpetrator.

Next Time
Next issue, we'll begin to look at a case involving the driver of a semi-trailer truck with a route that takes him through five different states. Once or twice a year he picks up a young girl a prostitute working a rest stop, or a runaway hitch-hiker and eventually gets them into the back of his truck. Once there he chains them up and over several days repeatedly rapes them and uses small fish hooks to peel the skin from every inch of their bodies.

When they finally die, he picks a secluded wooded area along his route and buries the body in the woods. As any investigator knows, the buried all eventually rise and the body is found by a hunter, hiker, etc. after a heavy rain storm, or perhaps when some animal digs the body up. So, over a period of time, bodies are found in Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. The insight gained by a review of this case should prove valuable.

The question: What can we really do with skeletal remains?

Larry F. Jetmore, PhD, a retired captain of the Hartford (Conn.) Police Department, has authored five books in the field of criminal justice, including The Path of the Warrior. A former police academy and SWAT team commander, he earned his Ph.D. at Union University in Ohio, plus masters, bachelor, and associate degrees in Connecticut. Jetmore is the director of the criminal justice program at Middlesex College in Middletown, Conn., and full-time faculty.

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