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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

Education Systems (E-mail: danaturner@email.com, www.secedsys.com).

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:

Determine which of the following typical roles people are

likely to play in the investigation:

1. The victim, who has suffered a harm or was the victim

of a crime.

2. A witness, who has personally experienced an event

or crime through one or more of the five senses. Only a witness can

testify in court.

3. An informant, who has third party information about

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."

4. A suspect, who the investigator believes committed

the crime or act.

5. Hostile witnesses, whose relationship with the suspect

may cause them to be uncooperative or untruthful.

Determine where the event or crime happened. The location

establishes where a case can be tried.

Clarify the mechanical aspects of the event or crime —

what was taken, who was hurt, how it was done.

Decide the most effective order to question people. Always

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."

Interview victims, witnesses, and informants. The purpose

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."

Interrogate suspects and hostile witnesses. When interrogating,

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

hostile interviewees.

Decide whether to suspend an employee under investigation.

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."

Brief the administration on the investigation’s progress.

"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.

Document the event or crime and write reports. Because

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."

Track the case in court. The investigator must respond

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.

Turner describes his seminar as "a cop seminar that is adjusted

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

anything."

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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