Investigations are dualistic.   Without the flexibility to follow the facts wherever they lead, an investigation is unlikely to reach the best version of the truth.  But without a predefined process, an investigation team is likely to hold different people to different standards.  Squaring this circle is part of the reason that all investigative agencies follow slightly different processes, which are tailored to the realities of the agency they oversee.

One thing that should be the same across all investigations is that the most critical parts of the investigation process should be self-enforcing; it should be extremely difficult to move the investigation from one phase to the next without certain steps being completed.  Here are three ways to make a self-enforcing process that prevents major missteps.

#1 – A checklist of steps for each phase change

In many agencies, tips go through multiple phases.  For instance, they may start as complaints, with an initial fact-gathering phase to determine if the case should progress to an investigation.  But what determines whether an allegation is credible enough to warrant an investigation?

Moving a complaint into an investigation status in these cases should require specific steps to be followed.  In order to process the case, the investigator should be required to assert that specific steps were taken before it is moved – this can be as simple as a series of checkboxes, or a requirement that specific evidentiary documents be submitted to the system before it can be moved.  In larger agencies, a supervisor may want to review this as well; this ensures that any decision to progress a case also has a concurring one.

#2 – A progressive idle case notification system

When cases sit idle, it can lead to some pretty terrible headlines.  The recent departure of FEMA’S head of HR is an example of what can happen to an agency while a case sits idle for a half-year or more.  One way to avoid this is a system that automatically sends alerts when investigations are sitting idle.  After seven days idle, for instance, the assigned resource might get an alert.  After fourteen days, their supervisor does as well, and after a month of idle time, department heads receive an alert as well.

This prevents cases idling for months because the owner left the agency or it was referred outside of the agency.  Ultimately, the alert will reach a level where a person is empowered to solve the problem that’s preventing the case from moving forward.

#3 – Finalized document requirements

Many cases go through several hands, and a finalized report requires input from multiple people.  If documents are submitted before everyone has had a chance to review them, there could be a discrepancy between the final report and the evidence.  This is why all documents should be required to be marked as ‘final copy’ before the investigation can be closed.  In larger agencies, a supervisor may also be required to sign-off on documents before they can be marked finalized.  This ensures that the supervisor has the opportunity to ask all team members if the document reflects their case contributions before allowing it to be finalized and closed.

To learn how CMTS can help your agency complete its investigative mission, contact us at 855-636-5361 or email us at