Criminal Investigation, Vollmer

Our author of this section, August Vollmer, was the former chief of Berkeley, California and a past president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. This is another dry section so I’ll breeze through some of it.
Vollmer seems to be very partial to the old school Detective work. He stressed that a detective well versed in his knowledge of people can far outweigh a scientist with their detailed analysis of evidence. However, he continues by saying one, with the other, is the best possible scenario. A detective who refuses to advance his knowledge of new techniques is an ineffective as an old Doctor who refuses to read new research and procedures. Vollmer details 45 steps to ensure a thorough investigation. I’ll summarize them and we’ll see how many of those steps apply today, 75 years later.
1. Initiate investigation ASAP after crime.
2. Note your arrival time and all weather conditions.
3. Call for backup and assistance if required.
4.Remain calm, take your time, and evaluate the scene.
5. Identify your witnesses, get their info, and kick them out of the scene.
6. Tape off the scene to maintain the scene integrity.
7. Avoid preconceived notions about the crime and its cause.
8. Consider the simplest explanation and refrain from wild theories.
9. He refers to this as a GOLDEN RULE: Never disturb ANYTHING in the crime scene until it has been minutely described in your report.
10. Vollmer explains that there are always plenty of clues and that a dedication to finding them and associating those clues with witness statements will be the best basis for theories and conclusions.
11. Finally, we interview the witnesses. He stresses the importance of recording their exact wording. Disregard any witnesses who can only provide hearsay evidence. Know that this will likely not be the last interview, if the crime is significant enough to warrant such detailed investigation. Interview witnesses separate from each other. (Modern recording devices can help us immensely. I couldn’t imagine having to take such extensive notes every single time!)
12. Allow the witness to tell the story how they want. When they’re done, attempt to isolate “The Who, what, where, with what, why, how, and when.” Do this for every person the witness mentions.
13. Follow up interviews should be conducted in a more relaxed environment. Witness statements should be checked for accuracy and then signed.
14. If the witness mentions time, check their ability to accurately tell time. If they mention duration, use a timepiece to determine their ability to approximate. If they mention distance, check their estimations. If they describe height, check their estimates against known heights. These are all done to ensure credibility of the witness.
15. In interviewing suspects, their exact wording is again important. Don’t interrupt their train of thought. When they’ve finished, then it’s time to hit them with questions. Verifying their time, distance, and other perceptions is again important.
16. Vollmer harps on the important of suspect statements being made freely and voluntarily. Written 24 years before Miranda vs Arizona, courts were already looking at the importance of the conditions under which confessions were garnered. Vollmer stresses the inability to use threats, force or violence, nor promises of leniency can be used. The preferred confession is one in the suspects handwriting, signed by the suspect. He mentions one thing I’d never considered and that was having the suspect read and sign pages of transcription of the interview/interrogation. I suppose this was done to document the entire interrogation process. Video recordings have alleviated this need.
17. After a prelim exam of the scene and initial witness statements are obtained, move on to a cautious exam of the scene.
18. This point focuses on developing a way of examining crime scenes and not deviating from that method. This ensured a methodical search of every scene without question. Examine EVERYTHING and then look up and examine the scene above.
19. If you notice it, document it. And then sketch it’s location.
20. Measure distances of items found from a fixed point so that the scene can be reconstructed. Modern crime scene laser mapping can alleviate a lot of this work.
21. Take as much care in finding exonerating information or information that might indicate a crime has NOT been committed.
22. Don’t touch anything until everything has been documented, described and mapped. Document everything even if it doesn’t seem to support the developing theories.
23. If you can’t draw it, sketch it, or photograph, provide a written detail of the circumstances.
24. If the scene has been altered, document the alteration, and document it as it is now. Explain in later reports why the change occurred and by who’s hand.
25. A Chinese proverb says: “The eyes see only what they look for, and mood for what is already in the mind.” Examine the scene with an open mind and without distraction.
26. Use compass directions to identify locations of objects and document position, class, quantity, form, dimension, direction, style, and color of located items.
27. For exterior scenes, including vehicle accidents, maps and sketches with details of distances becomes even more important. Include tire marks, road marks, and other information that might not be present in an indoor scene.
28. Begin to take your investigation from the “general” level to a “particular” level.
29. Dead bodies: Document exact position. If dismembered, more detail must be included as to position, distance, and condition of each separate part. Document style of dress from head to toe. The author acknowledges that this section cannot hope to be an exhaustive source of dead body exam info. He summarized that every detail of the body, the surrounding area, and any visible evidence should be documented exhaustively and with photographs.
30. Take exhaustive photos of points of injury.
31. Document any changes to the body that occurred after officer arrival but before the investigation began.
32. Again, he stresses the all-inclusivity of the investigation. Care should be taken when interacting with the body due to concerns of contamination.
33. This point covers fingernail scrapings, blood Analysis, fingerprinting, and other things that hopefully are handled outside of your investigations division now.
34. After you’ve examined the body, another round of photographs should be taken.
35. Take casts of injuries.
36-41. All of these pertain to the effective collection of evidence, securely packaging, sealing, and marking them as you go. Also document who packaged and when.
42. Follow-up and make sure those non-Police investigators follow proper evidence collection procedure so as not to destroy evidence.
43. This covered the collection of evidence from arrested suspects. It also covers the importance of knowing you limits as an investigators. Ptah Hotep, prime minister to Egypt’s King in 2880 BC said, “It is a foolish thing to speak with authority on every kind of work.”
44. “There is a clue to every crime; finding it proves whether the investigator is a professional or an amateur.” Sometimes, the only clue is the MO (modus operandi) of the criminal. If no physical evidence is present, much can still be gathered from witnesses, style of crime, circumstances of how and when the crime was committed, and other non physical clues.
45. The final report should a description of the investigators procedures and perceptions, but using only facts. Follow that with suspect and witness statements, preferably signed, descriptions of all evidence, then describe any property involved starting with identifiable and moving to non-identifiable items. End with the best suspect information available, and descriptions of the MO. Finally, the detective can end the report with conclusions, interpretations and recommendations. Supplements will be required and expected unless the case is solved immediately.

Man, that was a dry read. I might start skipping parts. Not many reads on these but I find it interesting. Thoughts? Opinions? Should I cover every chapter? Just the best ones? Who decides what’s most interesting.

What tools does your department use to ease the burden of exhaustive investigation? What tools do you recommend? What courses have you attended that have helped you investigate more effectively?

Like, comment, share, send me a message to shut the hell up. I’m always up for a discussion!


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My name is Kevin and I’ve been in law enforcement for almost 10 years. I’m also a bit of a nerd. Nerd: I read and collect comic books, particularly books outside of the big two publishers. I collect and display toys, mainly action figures and vehicles. Cop: I’ve been a cop for almost 10 years. Certified Taser Instructor Certified Crash Reconstructionist Certified in FBI Statement Analysis Certified Hostage Negotiator Former Emergency Response Team Member My intent is to review police equipment, comic books, non-fiction books, toys, documentaries, and anything else that interests me. Views expressed and pictures posted in no way imply any endorsement from any Agency.

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