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Why Details Matter in Investigations

Posted - March 2, 2023

Yes, details in investigations matter. A lot of times when we’re doing investigations and I’m teaching investigations I get asked the same question. How do you deal with the so-called ‘he said, she said?. One of the most important things you need to do when you’re dealing with he said, she said cases is to assess credibility. And that’s by getting into the details.

Details matter most when comparing

It doesn’t matter whether someone shares the details confidently or not; the important thing is how it compares to the rest of your evidence. Details are important when comparing multiple statements because it gives you enough information to spot when someone’s accounts don’t fully align. It’s not good enough to just get the who and the what. You need to get to why, and how. You need to dig deep and get people to provide all the information they can possibly provide. The details are what will help you spot a statement that might lack a certain amount of reliability. 

Details matter for coached or collaborated statements

Sometimes we have cases where camps are formed. You may have situations where you have a group of people who support a complainant in the case, and a group of people that support the respondent. I’ve had this happen in cases where people want to support someone they care most about. That means sometimes there’s been conversations, coaching, or rehearsing and collaborating on statements. When you get into the details, it becomes very difficult for these individuals to come across as credible and reliable because their statements are just too similar and those similarities start to really stand out like a sore thumb. So, getting into the details makes it much easier to spot these sorts of coached or rehearsed types of statements. 

Details do not have to be shared chronologically to be true

Now, of course we have to make sure we are maintaining a smooth, non-threatening approach while we are trying to capture details. We are not interrogating people. We’re not looking to cause people stress during their interviews. This is something we see portrayed on tv a lot, such as people being coerced and playing ‘good cop, bad cop’. We’re not about that and we never should be about that. Good interviewers can treat the people they’re interviewing with respect, using a trauma-informed approach. 

It’s important to recognize that sometimes the past experiences people have had with the system can make it difficult for them. Specifically when it comes to sharing information in a way that we might think it should be shared. Oftentimes we think information should be shared chronologically – starting from the beginning and taking the investigator to the end. In a lot of cases people can’t do that. We have to be careful about being too quick to judge. There is no one-size-fits-all in investigations. You’re going to deal with people who struggle to share information in a way you think it should be shared. Don’t judge too quickly, take a look at all the evidence, and gather your information in as detailed a fashion as you can. 

Bottom Line

If you don’t get into the weeds a little, you’re not doing your investigation justice. Get into the details, learn about the nuances of what somebody experienced. Get into the why and the how – ask all those questions that need to be asked. This is where you get the information thats help you determine who is credible and what evidence is reliable. Of course, there are other things we’re going to look at when it comes to credibility. For instance, the plausibility of statement, how a statement lines up to other evidence, etc. But gathering as much detailed evidence as possible, will better position us to understand what someone can share and how useful that information it will be.