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This article by Michele Alperin was prepared for the May 16, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
In Case of an `Event,’ Gather Information Carefully
A good professional investigator never jumps to conclusions,
says Dana Turner, a Texas-based crime consultant with Security
He recently gave a workshop for the New Jersey Bankers Association
and told his class, "if you are among the folks that turn to the
back of the John Grisham novel, get out of here."
"Investigations are probably the most serious thing you can do
as a security person," explains Turner. Because issues of personal
reputation are often involved, investigators must be "extremely
careful, very conscientious, absolutely secretive, and very fair"
in the conduct of investigations.
Yet many security officers do not have sufficient training and tend
to make serious mistakes when conducting investigations. What concerns
Turner is that a poorly run investigation can ruin a person’s life.
"When you begin investigating any event within a business,"
he says, "you change the lives and your relationships with all
the participants forever."
Readers of detective novels are always intrigued by the "right"
way to do an investigation, but any employee or supervisor should
know the basic principles, "just in case." Investigations
can involve everyday mishaps, technically termed "events,"
as well as actual crimes. Non-criminal events that demand investigation
and documentation can include accidental injuries, balances that do
not reconcile, new accounts, credit applications, job applicants,
"fender benders" in the parking lot, and locating assets or
people who "skip" town to avoid collections.
The routine for conducting an investigation — no matter how serious
the event — is fairly standardized:
likely to play in the investigation:
of a crime.
or crime through one or more of the five senses. Only a witness can
testify in court.
the event or crime. Turner claims that many security officers do not
know the difference between a witness and an informant. But this distinction
is critical, since "informants cannot testify in court, because
they have no personal knowledge."
the crime or act.
may cause them to be uncooperative or untruthful.
establishes where a case can be tried.
what was taken, who was hurt, how it was done.
speak to the victims, witnesses, and informants first. The investigator
can use information from cooperative interviewees to uncover any lies
from hostile witnesses or suspects. "The most inexperienced investigators
go right to the suspects and confront them," says Turner. "This
is the worst thing you can do."
of an interview is to gather new information and to validate existing
information. "Setting is important," warns Turner. "You
don’t need to overpower anyone who already wants to talk."
orchestrate the setting by controlling lighting, heating, and anything
else that will elicit information from uncooperative people. Although
these people require different tactics, Turner maintains that "most
investigators overlook the differences" between cooperative and
Turner recommends that anyone who is the target of an investigation
be suspended immediately, with pay. "Collect the person’s keys
and lock him out of the building," advises Turner. A suspect who
continues to work may taint other witnesses’ testimony and compromise
evidence. "But this is something that businesses are reluctant
to do," says Turner about suspension. "They think it will
look bad for the employee, and they do not want to hurt feelings."
Turner explains that after the investigation is over, persons wrongly
accused can simply return to work, and "if the person did do it,
then he is already gone, and that is one less thing to worry about."
"The administration needs to make intelligent, informed choices
about what to do and say if contacted by reporters." The administration
must also share information with the legal counsel.
events and crimes may require civil or criminal trials, the investigator
must keep a chronological log of events that describes what he did
during the investigation, with whom, and when. The investigator must
gather, store, catalog, and secure all evidence, and then record it
in written reports. Evidence can include a videotape of the crime
scene, handwriting samples, fingerprints, E-mail and other information
stored on personal computers, witness statements, and written admissions
from suspects. The problem, says Turner, is that "most people
don’t know the value of evidence."
to subpoenas, produce evidence, testify in court, and work with legal
counsel to recover property. Because statutes of limitations can be
quite generous, sometimes an investigator, "must be prepared to
testify in six years on something he did today," says Turner.
for civilian world." Of his family, he says only that many of
its members were "on the other side of the law" and that he
was "genetically predisposed to my line of work — most of
my role models were negative, and I have been on my own since the
age of 13."
He received an associate’s degree in police science in 1972 in Santa
Maria, California, and was the financial crimes investigator for the
Santa Rosa Police Department. A teaching requirement opened a new
world to him. "They made it mandatory that I had to teach three
hours per week in the community, and I loved it," says Turner.
"That grew into what I do now."
Since 1983, he has been self-employed and has offered a variety of
seminars to membership associations, auditors, and examiners throughout
the United States and Canada. He also does telephone consultations
for financial institutions seeking to avoid risk in potential cases
of embezzlement that might lead to sexual harassment or workplace
violence. "When you are looking at financial crimes, it requires
finesse," he says. His rates range from $1,000 to $2,000 per day
depending on the job and the time frame.
Turner maintains that increasing the professionalism of investigators,
through formal training, is critical. At present, he says, "they
learn through on-the-job training," which amounts to very little,
and what results is an "extreme lack of professionalism about
conducting investigations." Turner warns that a badly handled
investigation "can ruin a person’s life, even if they didn’t do
About those crime novels: Turner is an avid reader and future author
in this genre. He particularly admires such writers as Michael Connelly,
Patricia Cornwall, and Stuart Woods (author of "Chiefs"),
but his favorite is "John Grisham, without a doubt. He’s truthful.
He portrays the investigators as they are."
— Michele Alperin
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