5 myths about patrol officers and detectives
The role of a patrol officer is crucial to a successful criminal investigation
As a detective and former patrol officer, I have a tremendous respect for the men and women of our profession who work patrol. I can attribute a great deal of my success as a detective to the thorough and detailed preliminary investigations conducted by the patrol officers I’ve worked with. This cooperative effort between patrol officers and detectives is essential to clearing cases and successful prosecutions. Not all patrol officers and detectives share this “cooperative” approach. Unfortunately, in some agencies, relationships between patrol officers and detectives are strained due to simple misunderstandings about the roles that each play during the course of an investigation. Some believe, for example, that the role of a patrol officer is only to respond to a crime scene and secure it until the detective(s) arrive and upon their arrival, “hand off” the investigation. The problem with this philosophy is that the patrol officer is then “hands off” rather than “hands on” during the remaining course of an investigation.
It is worth noting the benefits of a cooperative effort between patrol officers and detectives. By working side by side, to the extent that the demands of patrol allow, during a criminal investigation allows detectives to educate patrol officers about the criminal investigative process. Similarly, patrol officers can educate detectives through their familiarity of their assigned beat or post, their sources of information, the members of their community, and the offenders that operate there.
This philosophy of “pairing and sharing” creates an atmosphere for learning. Patrol officers gain the “big picture” outlook while working with a detective on a criminal investigation. They expand their knowledge base, have an opportunity to network with other detectives and learn of or acquire investigative resources that may assist them in their patrol function.
We should also consider the fact that in most cases, patrol officers are our future detectives. The skills patrol officers learn while working with a detective will help them to hit the ground running once they are promoted to the status of investigator.
In an effort to dispel some of the misunderstandings between detectives and patrol officers, here are five myths relevant to the work that both perform. By clearing up these myths, I hope to foster the understanding that a partnership, absent ego or animosity and based upon mutual respect and interdependence should exist between detectives and patrol officers to efficiently and effectively solve and prosecute criminal cases.
Myth #1: For Patrol Officers, a Preliminary Investigation Consists Only of Securing the Scene and Taking Information for a Report
The actions of the first responding officers are critical to a successful case outcome. Taking appropriate actions based upon their initial analysis of the crime scene is something detectives rarely have an opportunity to do. Patrol officers’ first-responder status is a big benefit — anything pertinent that can be gathered in those initial stages of a crime is very beneficial to the follow-up investigation. Quick and appropriate notifications are also a valued responsibility of patrol officers at a crime scene. The sooner the appropriate investigator arrives the greater the chance of successful case resolution.
Myth #2: Patrol Officers Receive Adequate Training on Investigative Matters
While academy training is beneficial most patrol officers learn best in the field, as there is no substitute for practical hands-on experience. This too is why partnering patrol officers and detectives is important. If a patrol officer could be partnered with a detective during the course of an investigation or even a portion of the investigation the detective could share with the patrol officer investigative steps necessary to successfully clear the case. This “pairing and sharing” process would benefit the patrol officers by improving their investigative strategies and skills and would benefit the detectives by having well-trained first responders who instinctively know the most beneficial steps to take in a preliminary investigation.
Myth #3: Patrol Officers Do Not Carry Out a Wide Range of Investigative Tasks
The crime scene itself is similar to a leaking sieve. Victims or witnesses may be fleeing the scene and evidence could be corrupted, contaminated or removed. The actions of the initial patrol officer determines whether the leaks in the “vessel” containing critical case information are plugged or if it runs dry — leaving detectives with little or nothing to work with.
Patrol officers may also be asked to respond back to a crime scene after it is been processed and released. There have been several times when additional evidence is discovered or new information comes to light and the patrol officer is either the one making the discovery or tasked with that follow-up.
Detectives are not typically the first responder to a call for service or a crime scene. The responsibilities of the first responding patrol officer vary depending upon the type of crime and the nature of the crime scene. Suffice to say that the more a patrol officer can do during the preliminary stages of an investigation, the greater the chances of a successful case outcome.
Myth #4: The Responsibility of the Patrol Officer Ends When the Detective(s) Arrive
Another critical area where patrol officers and detectives often rely upon one another is court. The patrol officer is often one of the first people called to testify at trial. Maintaining contact with the detective throughout the investigative process of a case familiarizes the patrol officer with the investigative steps taken to identify the suspect and gather the appropriate evidence so that the patrol officer can testify confidently and comfortably when questioned.
Myth #5: An Investigation Can’t Start Until a Crime Occurs
A successful prosecution is the hallmark of a good investigation. Good investigations occur when patrol officers and detectives work cooperatively from beginning to end, each playing a key role in the investigative process. A better understanding of how the work of patrol officers and detectives pairs to build a case and dispelling the myths that blur the roles that each performs during an investigation helps to realign their common purpose — skilled patrol officers, quality investigations and successful prosecutions.
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