Do I feel lucky?

If you are a fan of cop shows you might recognize the title of this post as a quote from Dirty Harry Callahan, the fictional San Franciso detective.  I think he is one of the most popular movie detectives.  Police detectives are often the main characters of TV shows and movies.  They are portrayed in many ways and often with quirky personalities and methodologies.

In the movies and on television, they lead exciting work lives, live on boats and operate outside the confining/corrupt nature of the police department while their personal lives are a sad mess due to their job–isn’t that the story line? 

One of my own favorites was Barney Miller , a great TV show from the 1970s.  I always thought it was quite accurate in its portrayal of detectives.  (If you are one of our detectives I’m just kidding…… well maybe not). 

Real detectives lead normal personal lives and at work they have a regular routine peppered with incidents of crazy, non stop activity.  The crazy activity is due to major crimes.  They are called in regardless of time of day or day of week.  They work non stop for 24 hour periods or more, if that is what the investigation requires.  We all know that the faster we can get an investigation going and the more leads we can run in the first 24 hours, the higher the likelihood we will be able to solve the crime. 

We have 5 detectives each of whom is assigned responsiblity for one or more areas of investigation:  sexual assault/adult; sexual assault/child; burglary; larceny; licensing by city ordinance; fraud; embezzlement;  vehicle theft; violent crime among many, many others.  They are our technical specialists who are experienced and  trained in generalized and specialized investigation.  They are promoted to their position (unlike most agencies nowadays)  because I believe that our community wants us to be effective at solving crime.  Some communities have chosen to make investigations a rotating assignment so that more officers can have a chance to learn and practice this type of work.  Personally, however, I don’t think it is in the best interests of the community to create a situation where investigators are in a constant state of development.  I want to rely upon highly skilled people when the BIG one happens.  Generally being a detective is perceived as a higher status and in fact, is a higher pay due to its specialized nature.  I suppose my logic is counter intuitive but I think (and our detectives have proven) that a detective can be very effective over a long period of time given a clear set of goals and effective management to avoid burnout.  We need their expertise and experience. 

Everyday our Investigations Lieutenant Thom Hardesty goes over the log from the day (a 24 hour day) before looking for crimes that need to move up in the queue of cases to be handled.  Sergeants are also evaluating cases as they review reports from the officers and forwarding cases they know will be handled by detectives.  Generally we use what are called solvability factors to best utilize our scarce investigative resources. The factors are:

Witnesses to the crime  
Knowledge of the suspect’s name  
Knowledge of where the suspect can be located 
Description of suspect  
Identification of suspect
Property with traceable, identifiable characteristics, marks or numbers  
Existence of a significant method of operation
Presence of significant physical evidence  
Description of the suspect’s vehicle  
Positive results from a crime scene evidence search  
Belief that crime may be solved with publicity and/or reasonable additional investigative effort

Sufficient solvability factors indicate that an investigation should be instituted.   They also help to determine how long the investigation should be pursued prior to being suspended.
There are also “Human factors” that investigative supervisors take into consideration:

The crime is of an ‘infamous’ nature
The crime offends the sensibilities of the community
The crime involves a political ‘hot button’ issue
The victim is defenseless (child, senior citizen, mentally or physically challenged)

We’d like to investigate every crime and clear every case but it is not possible when we are taking thousands of cases per year and only have 5 detectives.  In fact, the detectives themselves don’t want to abandon  investigations.  They believe that if they can squeeze in one more interview or find a pattern with other cases, they’ll be able to make the case.  The fact is that the colder and older a case is, the more difficult it is to solve.  And despite their best efforts sometimes there just isn’t enough evidence to make the case.  With new cases coming in every day, we need to move them onto a case that has a higher probability of being solved. One little known fact about investigaitons is that even when an arrest is made, if it is a major case, the investigation continues to resolve more aspects of the case in preparation for trial, like identifying co conspirators.   Hours and hours of investigation go into a major case before it can go to trial. 

I have confidence in our outstanding crew of detectives.  I’ve seen them solve some incredible cases quickly using a high level of skill and determination. And I confess that I actually enjoy watching them work a big case.  I like to watch them puzzle their way through crime following the evidence.  I get a great sense of satisfaction as a result of their work.

And yes,  I do feel lucky to work with such policing professionals.