Two of the most difficult moments in an investigator’s career revolves around knowing when to calling it quits. The first concerns retirement, knowing when to walk away from a career that has probably consumed most of your adult life. That is a personal decision I will not attempt to answer. The second involves knowing when a case has hit a dead end and being able to put it on the cold case shelf or simply admit there is no case at all. For some this second scenario is no less difficult and just as important as the first.
As an investigator and later investigative supervisor, it was not just my job to solve cases. It was also my job to determine whether or not a case existed and whether or not that case was ever going to reach the point of possible prosecution. Sadly, the hard truth is that some cases, even important cases everyone wants to see solved, next get there. At some point, the investigators need to move on, put that one away and take up the next one. But how do you know when that is?
1. No new or reliable information has been uncovered in a reasonable period of time. Obviously, the lack of new information is the first sign a case is cold, but this is not an all-inclusive indicator. Some case, especially those dependent on tips from the public or extensive forensic analysis, can drag on for weeks or months before an important break. But, eventually, every case will dry up, and that is the first sign the case is dead.
2. You try to make what you do have fit the scenario you want it to. This is a real problem and a true sign that your case is headed south quick. It is the investigator’s job to go where the evidence leads them, not lead the evidence where they want it to go. When you start doing this, it is a sign of desperation and an indicator that your case may be over.
3. The case becomes a personal obsession. This makes for a good movie plot but can wreak havoc on your life in the real world. If you find a case becoming so much of your daily life, especially off duty, that you are unable to work on anything else, then you need to ask yourself “is it time to step back?” Maybe the case is cold, maybe it needs new eyes, or you just need a break; however, it is impossible to make this decision once obsessed. Don’t kid yourself, unlike the movies this doesn’t just happen on once in a lifetime cases involving missing kids or horrific murders. You can become obsesses with any case if it hits the right (or wrong) buttons.
4. You become willing to cut corners to get evidence. This is a BIG red flag, and when this happens, you know there is a problem. The willingness to do anything to win is also a move made out of desperation and rarely results in a positive outcome. A best-case scenario is you lose any such evidence in court. Worst case scenario finds the suspect still free while YOU are behind bars. If the evidence truly exists then find a legal, court admissible means of uncovering it. Otherwise, you are making a bad case worse.
5. Any possible penalty or resolution is outweighed by the effort needed. I know, this sounds like a supervisor talking and it is, but in all honesty, this is a real consideration. When a minor, or relatively minor given the circumstances, case reaches the point that prosecution will cost more than it is worth it may be time to call it quits. Of course, by more than it is worth I do not mean fines or penalties but also the man-hours, technical resources and similar costs associated with the investigation. This is not purely a cost vs. benefit analysis either when he happens it usually means other more important cases are being overlooked.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.