Autopsy of an Investigator

Wayne Watson

As investigators, we are called upon to investigate allegations that were brought to our attention by people who expect us to be fair, thorough and impartial throughout our investigations. Organizations invest enormous amounts of time and money to protect their clients as well as their reputations. An overzealous or incompetent investigator can be a real liability to their employers. The cloud that hangs over an organization that conducts and acts on the results of a badly conducted investigation takes a long time to dissipate. Credibility and trust are difficult to earn and extremely easy to lose especially in this media hungry and litigious society we live in. That is why those who attempt to cut corners, or obtain evidence illegally or unethically not only end up doing a disservice to their organization, the complainant, their colleagues and to society as a whole, but most of all to themselves. Throughout my many years in the realm of investigations I have worked with some pretty incredible investigators so I thought that in this column we would look into what makes these investigators a “cut” above the others.

If one conducted an autopsy of the most successful investigators, the pathologist, after having completed his “Y” incision, would probably find some similar attributes in his “patients”. Let’s peek over the shoulder of the good doctor and see what he discovers.

Like all professionals our pathologist never took things at face value and so it was with the investigators on his table. To investigate is be on a quest for the truth. The most effective investigators I have had the privilege to work with realized that the truth can be elusive.  They were very much aware that human beings, being the complex organisms that we are, don’t always see things as they are but as they want them to appear. The experienced investigators are very mindful of this and realizethat this is part of the equation. Why do you think that police officers have a reputation for being so sceptical…about everything and everybody? They spend most of their professional lives trying to see through the veil of falsehoods that are thrown at them. Even good intentioned people will tell you things that they believe are true when, in reality, they are recounting their perception of what they saw. We have all seen that picture in which a portion of the population see an old haggard woman with a big nose while others,who look at the same picture, see an elegant attractive young woman looking away from them. It is all in the eyes of the beholder.

As the good doctor studied the investigators’ bone structure he determined that this species stood with their heads held high as they held themselves to a higher standards and were very proud individuals. They realized that they had been entrusted with an important mission and that it was a privilege to be doing the work they did.

Upon analysis of our investigator’s brain another secret was revealed. Under the microscope the good doctor discovered that the cells of his patients contained a deep knowledge of human nature. Our cavemen ancestors lived in fear of the many perceived threats that their environment had in store for them. When you stop and think about it not much has changed since then. We may have moved out of our caves but the perceived threats of our modern environment have our adrenal glands just as active as those of our ancestors. Survival is still our goal and just about everybody has hidden fears and anxieties thatdictate their behaviours. Investigators, to be effective, need to be conscious of the agendas that may lurk behind their witnesses’ facade. Our fears normally dictate our agendas. Find the agenda and you will find the truth.

The pathologist would most probably find while dissecting the heart of his decedents that, though these sleuths are very passionate about their work, the good ones are also emotionally detached from the results of their investigation. They would also have been very conscious that, if they were slanted in the course of the investigation, theywould only register what fits their paradigm. If they saw only what they wanted to see, their “quest for the truth” would be a “quest for their truth.” Passion can be a positive attribute but it can also be very dangerous as it can fuel our perceptions. The true professional is aware of this trap. This self-awareness probably saved our investigators and their organizations from committing many costly and embarrassing mistakes.

Upon inspection of the larynxes, the pathologist was able to determine that his charges had possessed excellent communication skills. Their auditory systems revealed that these investigators were also outstanding listeners. This ability to get people to reveal themselves and taking the time to capture what was being said played a huge part in their numerous successes.

The results of the toxicology report would indicate that a heavy dose of integrity flowed through the investigators’ systems. The courage to do the right thing for the right reasons appeared in all these cadavers. The DNA tests reported that all these former investigators had similar values such as honesty, integrity, respect, professionalism and compassion. This didn’t surprise the pathologist as the file indicates that these investigators worked for organizations that espoused those values.

These men and women, being true investigators, “invested” themselves by using all their skills to gather all the facts required for the decision makers to render judicious determinations.

The good doctor completed his report and in the box entitled “Profession” he stamped in bold red letters, “INVESTIGATOR”. As he left the autopsy room he looked back at his charges and said out loud , “Thanks,… to all of you.”


Wayne Watson is a retired member of the RCMP. He is presently the president of W2 Investigations Consulting Inc. He can be reached at [email protected]