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Case Deconstruction of Criminal Investigative Failures

NCJ Number
Kim Rossmo; Joycelyn Pollock
Date Published
January 2018
28 pages
This is the Final Summary Overview of the findings and methodology of a project that deconstructed the systemic nature of criminal investigative failures, i.e., unsolved crimes that should have been solved or crimes that were incorrectly "solved" (wrongful convictions).
A number of wrongful convictions and other types of failures in criminal investigations were deconstructed to identify the major causal factors, their characteristics and interrelationships, and the systemic nature of the overall failure. Researchers initially identified 275 criminal investigative failures as possible study cases. Information on crime type, relevant dates, location, investigating agency, exoneration method (if applicable), information sources, and other relevant information was collected. Cases were scored on the basis of information availability and agreement level that the investigation was a failure. The average of these two scores was used for an overall case score. The top 50 cases were then selected for analysis. Each case was analyzed by two researchers, with at least one of them being an experienced major-crime investigator, The causes for investigative failure in each case were classified according to a scheme for error analysis adapted from Reason's (1990) failure domains. These are personal issues, organizational problems, and situational features. Tools and methods from content and network analysis were used in assessing the information. The study identified 363 causes across the 50 cases, for an average of 7.3 factors per case. Most of the causal factors were categorized as personal (61 percent), followed by organizational (21 percent) and situational (18 percent). The results of this project provide an approach for analyzing systemic causation of flawed investigations under the sentinel events initiative. The study's five main recommendations pertain to systemic awareness; cognitive "de-biasing;" organizational monitoring; evidence collection, evaluation, and analysis procedures; and risk recipes. 7 tables and 19 references