Complete, accurate, and well-written notes are the primary means of memorization and guidance during investigations and interrogations of witnesses, victims, and suspects. Responsible record keeping is an integral part of a police officer’s duties and an ethical and legal obligation. A proper record of an investigation makes it easier for the lead investigator to develop a theory of the case, which allows subsequent investigative actions to be carried out with greater certainty and efficiency. The information must be written down accurately enough to be presented as evidence, even after many months after it was collected. Keeping notes during an investigation increases the credibility of the police officer giving evidence.
Moreover, notetaking contributes to the proper administration of criminal justice by making it easier to prove facts. Notes should contain an accurate and complete account of police observations and actions and answer simple questions: who, what, when, where, how, and why. At all stages of the investigation, records help build the course of the investigation, provide evidence in court and increase the credibility of the police officer.
The Role of Notetaking
Notes about the incident allow the investigator to understand the completeness of the detection, serve as evidence in court, and provide an opportunity to return to the investigation after many years. Keeping police records is important for the further conduct of the trial of the accused, providing valuable information about the testimony of all parties in the process. Notes can cover an unanswered question, fill in a gap in time and place, or provide a reasonable answer to the “why” question.
The Major Components
The main documented parts of the investigation include the victim statements, the witness statement, the suspect statement, and the case facts. These basic parts of the investigation are necessary for the competent conduct of any case. Keeping notes at all stages allows the investigator to build a causal relationship and return to parts of the investigation at any time without relying on human memory. All stages include certain necessary issues to be covered in the records.
Reporting Victim Statements
Victim statements are created to allow the judge to hear how a criminal case affected the victim. The victim is usually one of the first people who can give exhaustive testimony about the case and its circumstances. Often the victim of a crime may be in a difficult moral state and cannot separate facts from emotions (Van Doorn & Koster, 2019). It becomes the task of the policeman: to highlight the main points, separated from the emotions. Taking notes at this stage allows the investigator to achieve this goal. Key issues covered at this stage may include who reported the crime, who is the victim, what the crime scene looks like, and who is suspected of it. The notes should be as clear as possible, as they will allow the investigator to return to a key stage at the time and highlight the events without the emotional experience of the victim.
Reporting Witness Statements
Witness testimony is a procedural result, a product of interaction between an inquirer, an investigator, a court, and an information carrier. Witness testimony is not unconditional; it is not an objective form of expression of information (Gabbert & Confrey, 2018). A witness statement is the only source of evidence to which higher quality requirements have been presented. False witness statements can also be a source of evidence. Recordings at this stage can provide valuable information in court and significantly influence the course of an investigation. Witnesses, as well as the victim, can provide crucial information about who the suspect is. Sometimes, without realizing it, witnesses give valuable information. It may escape the memory of the police officer, so it must be recorded instantly. It is especially important at this stage that the notes are facts, not opinions – this will help to separate the truthful statements from the false ones.
Reporting Suspect Statements
The suspect’s testimony is the information provided by the suspect during the interrogation conducted during pre-trial proceedings. Suspects are interrogated on the merits of the circumstances of the crime of which they are suspected. The testimony is not only a source of evidence but also serves as a means of protecting the suspect’s interests. The suspects have the right to explain the suspicion brought against them or refuse to give explanations and testimonies (Brimbal & Jones, 2018). Suspects have the right to testify on the merits of the suspicion raised against them in the commission of a crime and other circumstances known to them in a criminal case. Thus, the suspect is often a source of valuable information about the offense committed. Notetaking at this stage is important both in the prosecution and defense of the suspect. Documenting the facts makes it possible to exclude the possibility of self-incrimination, or vice versa, to provide the possibility of confessing to an offense.
Reporting Facts of the Case
Recording the circumstances of the case allows the investigator to put together the whole picture of the testimony of the victim, the witnesses, and the suspect. At this stage, thanks to the notes, the officer can understand how fully the investigation was carried out and what could have been missed. The investigator can document how fully all participants in the investigation were interviewed and make notes about the search, physical evidence, and evidence. It is important to reproduce the entire chain of investigation: who declared the offense, how reliable this source is, whether someone saw the offense and whether the evidence was obtained. In addition, based on the records, one of the main questions can be answered: is the suspect guilty of the alleged crime and understand the motives.
Importance of the Elements
All elements of an investigation, along with records of them, are important both for the course of the investigation itself, for the completion of the report of the offense, and subsequent evidence in court. The investigation elements are a chain that allows the officer to answer the questions of the investigation, find the culprits, and bring them to justice. The victim’s testimony allows the investigator to attract witnesses, the testimony of witnesses – to find the suspects and their testimony – to understand the motives and confirm guilt or innocence. Documentation is important at each stage so that valuable information is not overlooked. First, step-by-step notetaking allows the investigator to return to any stage of the investigation and comprehend the completeness of its conduct. Secondly, saving valuable information about the case on paper is essential to provide evidence, including those that the participants in the case may subsequently refuse. Finally, it is impossible to provide a complete picture of the incident in the final report without notes about the investigation.
Thus, notes at all stages of the investigation provide the case with valuable information. Notes allow the investigator to record facts without emotions, provide an opportunity to return to any stage, fill in the gaps and answer the investigation questions. The clarity in police notes is important, as they will form the basis of both the final report and evidence in court. Notes also allow the investigator to reproduce the events of the case even after many years.
Brimbal, L., & Jones, A. M. (2018). Perceptions of suspect statements: A comparison of exposed lies and confessions. Psychology, Crime & Law, 24(2), 156–176. Web.
Gabbert, F., Hope, L., & Confrey, M. (2018). Witness testimony. In The psychology of criminal investigation, 113–132. Routledge.
Van Doorn, J., & Koster, N. N. (2019). Emotional victims and the impact on credibility: A systematic review. Aggression and violent behavior, 47, 74–89. Web.