Investigation Failure: The Real Cost of Botched Investigations

Investigation Failure: The Real Cost of Botched Investigations

broken investigations

Why do so many investigations go wrong?

Social media has had a profound effect on how society, government and institutions operate. Though social media may not directly change society’s culture, it will definitely expose it. So when things go wrong and a background investigation is required, rest assured that social media is watching and will hold us accountable.

As a growing number of botched investigations are exposed, investigators need to take a closer look at how investigations are conducted.

As a growing number of botched investigations are exposed, investigators need to take a closer look at how investigations are conducted to avoid investigation failures.

At times, certain complex situations arise, which necessitate an investigative response outside the normal routine of an organization. These could include multiple internal thefts or corruption, serious harassment issues or a serious accident. Extraordinary managerial demands in conducting and coordinating a complex investigation, can place those in charge with its direction in an overwhelming situation—the results oftentimes ending up in a courtroom. Recognized investigative skills and protocols are essential to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the investigative process.

How an investigation is structured and conducted can significantly affect the credibility of the investigation and the organization who sanctioned it. Large or small, an investigation is viewed as an impartial fact-finding process mandated to reveal the truth—a simple concept that that often gets derailed from the start.

There are far too many failed investigations

The alleged sexual crimes of CBC radio-personality Jian Gomeshi are one example where an organization may have been both late to recognize a problem and slow to deliver an appropriate response

Allegations or situations that are reacted upon too quickly, too slowly or are structured inappropriately for the complexity of the task are commonplace.

The alleged sexual crimes of CBC radio-personality Jian Gomeshi are one example where an organization may have been both late to recognize a problem and slow to deliver an appropriate response that protected its employees and the corporation’s integrity. So many questions.

Another example of investigation failure is the BC government’s unfair firing or suspension of 7 health workers for a series of data breaches and inappropriate use of private information. The botched government investigation was the subject of an independent review by by BC labour lawyer, Marcia McNeil, who concluded that the B.C. Government’s investigation was flawed from the outset “embarked upon with a preconceived theory of employee misconduct” which led to a premature conclusion of guilt. The mishandled investigation led to costly union grievances, out-of-court settlements, and tragically, the suicide of a fired co-op placement student.

In another badly handled 2012 investigation into two massive sawmill explosions in Burns Lake and Prince George, BC, the cause was determined by WorkSafeBC to be an accumulation of sawdust within the mill. After the investigation, WorkSafeBC urged the laying of regulatory charges, but the BC Criminal Justice Branch found that WorkSafeBC had conducted its investigation improperly. Investigators hadn’t followed due process in gathering evidence or questioning managers, and as a result Crown could not lay charges. The investigative plan and structure were flawed from the start. The outcome: no person or company is being held accountable for a preventable tragedy that result in 20 injuries and 2 deaths.

Perception and process is everything
A timely and properly conducted investigation is important to the integrity and credibility of any organization. Things go wrong, and when they do, it’s important for leaders to establish proper investigative protocols and do the right thing. One only needs to picture reading about themselves in the media, where their actions and decisions are dissected in a courtroom or other public inquiry. It happens all the time. As with the examples listed above, trust and confidence in any organization can be significantly damaged when an investigation is flawed.

Your organization can avoid investigation failures

Here are some things to consider when faced with a situation that may require an investigation:

What did you know, when did you know, and what did you do about it?
The hard reality is that these questions will be posed to you by your boss, the media or judicial inquiry when a situation blows up in your face; so, it’s best to consider these question in the early stages of any potential investigation.

An investigation should be conducted by someone who has no interest in the outcome.
There should be no interference, political or otherwise and no preconceived notion of the findings.  As potentially disruptive as an investigation can be, it should be prompt, thorough and effective to ensure everyone’s protection. Consider hiring a professional from outside your organization. It may allow people to speak more freely without fear from internal pressures. A proper investigation should be conducted in good faith, confidentially and lead by the evidence it produces.

Information gained must be examined and sources verified. It is difficult and dangerous to reach conclusions based on information from weak sources

Document and verify
One of the most common criticisms of any investigation is the lack of documentation. Every investigation requires a detailed written account of actions taken, statements and decisions made in support of a particular course of action.  There is no other way in which to establish a record of the events. Equally, the importance of corroborating and verifying the facts are critical. Information gained must be examined and sources verified. It is difficult and dangerous to reach conclusions based on information from weak sources where the veracity of information has not been established.

A plan, any plan, is better that no plan
Always organize and establish a plan before starting your probe or investigation. Timing is critical, but don’t panic. Ill-considered responses cause problems and complications that may not be repairable. A thoughtful, proactive approach, taking into account proper investigative standards, will ensure the process is completed accurately, fairly and is consistent with legal principles.

A well-functioning company is prepared for an investigative process. It is often the most simple, straightforward matters that can cause the most grief. Consider using an independent, professional corporate investigator with a strong, verifiable background. An investigation that finds facts and can withstand scrutiny requires a structured approach, careful planning, appropriate resources and skilled investigators.

About the Author

Pat Fogarty is a former organized crime investigator now leading Internet research and investigations at Fathom Research Group. Read more about Pat.