Detectives have an important role in policing. The investigations they conduct are relied on to identify and convict those guilty of serious crimes. The stakes are high. Poor investigation may result in dangerous offenders remaining free to commit more crime or even the wrongful conviction of the innocent. Also important is the way that detectives go about their work. Their responsiveness to victims, who are often the most vulnerable members of our society, has been found to affect victim satisfaction with the justice system as a whole. Further, investigations into high profile cases often attract intense public scruntiny, which means that how detectives conduct themselves can influence public perceptions of police as a whole. For these reasons it is essential that the skills, abilities and personal characteristics of effective detectives are identified. These characteristics in turn may have profound implications for detective recruitment, training and management.
Despite the importance of detective work, little attention has been paid to what makes an effective detective. One of the few studies to examine this issue, was a training needs analysis for detectives, conducted in England, that found communication was the most important skill. More recently, Smith and Flanagan have looked at attributes associated with being an effective senior investigating officer (SIO) or manager of detectives and major criminal investigations. Three themes of skills were identified for SIOs, namely ‘investigative ability’, ‘knowledge levels’ and ‘management skills’. However, the skills needed to be an effective detective are likely to differ to those required for an SIO. Nevertheless, there is, to our knowledge, no published study that has explored the views of experienced detectives in Australia and New Zealand about what makes an effective detective. This study was conducted to remedy this lack of research.
Authored by Dr Nina Westera, Professor Mark Kebbell, Dr Rebecca Milne and Professor Tracey Green.