The Art of Investigation

What specific qualities define the highly successful investigator?

Posted Jan 15, 2020

Investigators are highly skilled people. Due to the CSI effect, the general public knows a lot about the scientific skills involved in investigative work. Television shows such as Forensic Files are easily “binged” by armchair investigators who revel in the hunt and applaud the satisfying ending which lauds the scientific results. These popular shows have made crime scene investigation terms such as luminol, ballistics, and bloodstain pattern analysis, commonplace. A common theme of Forensic Files is that investigators find and collect the evidence, analyze the results and eventually catch the killer.

However, the public doesn’t hear a lot about the art of investigation—the mental capabilities of the investigators—which are equally beneficial in solving the case. For instance, in Forensic Files, the investigator exercises great confidence in conducting highly successful interviews to build the case where the luminol was eventually deployed. The curious investigator takes his case “one step further” extending the search whereby finding the bullet that as eventually analyzed. The investigator demonstrated great patience when diligently evaluating the crime scene, where the bloodstain patterns were eventually found. The art of investigation captures the “missing piece” of the proverbial puzzle that defines the field of investigations.

In all, the art of investigation is exemplified by the following mental traits: adaptability, confidence, creativity, curiosity, discretion, empathy, energy, ingenuity, initiative, integrity, patience, professionalism, self-control, skepticism, and tenacity.

In practice, there are many examples of these “artistic” traits yielding astounding investigative results. As investigators, we are very familiar with these qualities and their desirable outcomes. One of these is tenacity. In one known case, the tenacity of a dynamic investigative duo ultimately freed an innocent man after 25 years of being wrongfully incarcerated.

The value of patience was demonstrated in another investigator, whose successful investigation led to the arrest and conviction of a serial killer who murdered prostitutes in upstate New York and kept their decaying bodies in his home while residing there with his parents. In one missing person’s case, a private investigator demonstrated self-control when dealing with the victim’s family and some extremely uncooperative witnesses. For another investigator, his skepticism resulted in the conviction of a Pharmacy Director who had fooled his staff and government investigators for more than five years by stealing 200,000 doses of hospital purchased Oxycodone

By no means is this list all-inclusive. However, without most of these traits, an investigator may never reach the successful conclusion desired. Legendary investigators like Mike Wallace and Edward R. Murrow set the example for the profession with their hard-hitting uncompromising search for the truth. By returning to the basics, we can restore confidence in the new breed of investigators.

The Art of Investigation by Binns and Sackman was published in 2019 and is available for purchase at CRC Press.