Section 1: Introduction to Criminal Investigations

Fundamentals of Criminal Investigation by Adam J. McKee

It must be recognized that all crimes and crime scenes are unique.  The legal and political environment of each jurisdiction is different as well.  The judgment of the investigator, departmental policy, and the law should be given deference in the implementation of the material in this text.  Because of this individuality, no single step-by-step “cookie-cutter” process can be devised for conducting criminal investigations. What I have attempted to do in this text is to expound on general principles that, at the time of writing, were considered best practices.  This text is not intended as a rigid protocol.

Not every portion of this book may be applicable to all crimes.  It is at the discretion of responding personnel (depending on their responsibilities, as well as the purpose and scope of their duties) to apply the procedures recommended in this book to a particular incident.  Some of the procedures described in this book may not be performed in the sequence described or may be performed simultaneously. Nothing herein is intended to constitute legal advice, and no guarantee can be made as to technical accuracy.  Always defer to federal, state, and local legal requirements as well as departmental policy.

When most people outside of law enforcement circles hear the term criminal investigation, they immediately think of high-technology forensic tools such as DNA, computer-aided video enhancement, and multitudinous chemicals that glow in the dark to reveal invisible evidence.  Hollywood has painted a glamorous picture of the criminal investigation process that is largely misleading. To really grasp the true nature of the criminal investigation process, we must proceed to dispel the myths created by Hollywood and get back to basics.

Simply put, a criminal investigation is a systematic search for people, things, and information in order to reconstruct the circumstances of a criminal act, identify and apprehend the perpetrator, and aid the prosecution of the perpetrator in court.  

From this general definition, we can establish several important objectives of a criminal investigation:

  • Ensure the safety of officers, civilian support staff, and the public
  • Respond to exigent situations at the scene of the crime
  • Establish the crime scene priorities
  • Identify suspects
  • Collect, document, and preserve evidence
  • Recover stolen property
  • Assist in the prosecution of the defendants
Modification History

File Created:  05/02/2019

Last Modified:  02/03/2024

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