What Makes A Good Investigator

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I was asked the question last week, ‘What makes a good Investigator?’

The person asking me the question wanted to know what makes a good investigator as opposed to a bad one. I don’t think there is any textbook definition of what makes a good investigator however I think that a good investigator must posses certain key attributes.

But what is an investigator? In my opinion it’s any person who makes inquiries to determine the true facts of a situation or a person charged with the responsibility of conducting an investigation into a particular crime or event.

An investigation is a search for the truth.

Mere ability to ask questions or to analyse facts does not make a person a good investigator. To succeed in this role an investigator must possess particular attributes which may distinguish them from other people.


The above personal characteristics will define the person however to be a good, competent investigator you must possesses particular qualities in relation to your: ATTITUDE, EXPERIENCE & DECISION-MAKING ABILITY.

Attitude – It is the responsibility of an investigator to provide their company, clients and community with high standard and professional service. The pursuit of these aims must transcend all other considerations. The activities of an investigator can attract attention and interest, particularly if a company, individual or criminal activity draws extensive public interest through social media. Where an investigators efforts result in detecting a crime and subsequent prosecution, the attention of the Court will focus on an investigators activities and their investigation methods. Consequently, an investigator acquires a reputation with individuals they come in contact with, a reputation with clients they interact with and a reputation within their own organisation. An investigator’s attitude, therefore, must be such that they jealously guards their character and reputation in order to preserve confidence in impartiality and integrity.

Experience – It is only by the application of acquired knowledge and vocational skills that an investigator can achieve the maximum degree of operational efficiency. In the process, an investigator acquires a singular qualification for which there is no effective substitute. That qualification is experience. It is not experience alone that produces efficiency, but the ability of the individual to profit from the experiences to which they have been exposed. It is also important to continue to learn and gain knowledge from the experiences of others. Reading literature and publications about business, the law and crime investigation techniques and can be of considerable value. An experienced investigator has an understanding of human nature. Since an investigator can encounter a complete cross-section of society, it is vital that they should not only know how to conduct themselves in various situations and environments, but also how people from different classes of society and backgrounds are likely to react in various circumstances. Experience indicates the value of preparation. An experienced investigator, embarking upon a planned investigation, makes adequate preparations to ensure the successful outcome of the inquiry. An investigator will have considered corporate policy & procedures, considered the law & legal restrictions, the background of the individuals involved, the value of official records, the advice they may need from experts or the assistance from technicians and the nature of the equipment or facilities they may require. Experience teaches an investigator that the difference between success and failure is often the difference between preparation and the lack of it.

Decision making ability – An investigator is a fact-finder. They must resist the temptation to form rash judgements and must disabuse their mind of all prejudices in making decisions. The prospects of success depend largely on the ability to maintain objectivity in making decisions. Investigators are required constantly to evaluate situations, consider evidence, formulate theories, analyse facts and reach conclusions. The decision arrived at, depends on the investigator’s judgement of the situation and ability to arrive at the decision objectively. It is wise to remember that we can all be wrong in our opinions, but we cannot afford to be wrong in our facts. If you don’t understand a situation, or any aspect of it, don’t pretend that you do. Unless you understand the basic facts of a situation, any judgement at which you arrive is likely to be based on false assumptions and probably will be incorrect.

Above all else, it is an investigators responsibility to deliver high quality and professional service to their internal and external customers. Inevitably, an investigator is judged in terms of their professionalism. They must be alert to the desirability of promoting the standing of their organisation by the projection of an image. The standards of an organisation can be judged by the ethical conduct of its employees. Just one thoughtless act can destroy the image of an organisation and undermine public confidence in its reputation.

If any professional investigator can incorporate all of these qualities and attributes then in my opinion they will be well on the way to being a good investigator.