Conducting a proper investigation at the workplace

24 Jun, 2018 - 00:06 0 Views
Conducting a proper investigation at the workplace

The Sunday News


Patrick Bhunu
ONE of the most important aspects of a security officer in any business organisation is to formulate systems, policies, procedures and processes that ensure complete prevention of crime.

Absolute prevention, however, it is not always possible and security personnel find themselves being responsible for collection of evidence and facts when there are deviations to the rules and regulations or when crime has been committed. It is also the responsibility of the security officials to ensure that investigations are carried out successfully, leading to the identification of the culprit, recovery of loss (if any) and the successful prosecution of the culprit either in a court of law or disciplinary tribunal.

An investigation is a systematic search for the truth with the primary purpose of finding a positive solution to the crime using both objective and subjective clues. Objective and subjective clues, as explained by Van Heerden (1986), are factual proof and indirect explanations and evidence offered by people respectively. The fundamental character of investigations is to collect evidence and facts. They aim to uncover the truth about alleged misconduct within the organisation.

A sound investigative process should not compromise the relationship between investigators and the culprits as well as other innocent employees. It should not unnecessarily damage anyone’s reputation. This, therefore, calls for good planning, analytical skills, consistent execution and sensitivity. This should all be done with the full realisation that there are provisions of the country’s laws that need to be respected.

For evidence to be admissible (accepted) as evidence in a court of law or disciplinary tribunal, it has to be gathered in a lawful way. It must be presented in such a manner that the unlawful act of the culprit is demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt, in the case of a criminal case, and on a balance of probabilities, in the case of a disciplinary or civil case.

Investigations as a process entirely relies upon the gathering of information. Like what Marais (1988) says, those tasked with the investigation of cases in organisations should be able to identify all the relevant information, whether subjective or objective, which may shed light on the crime committed before it has been gathered. The possible value of the source of the gathered information should also be taken into consideration. This is done to make sure that decisions are not made on the basis of unqualified information which may result in legal complications for the company.

It could be possible that information is obtained from a bitter colleague who will be trying to settle a personal score. If investigators do not have an extensive knowledge of the evidential requirements of different types of crime, then the organisation would soon find itself sailing on unfavourable waters. All the obtained information should therefore be evaluated properly. This is important, not only to determine its relevance, but also to see whether it has any positive potential to reveal the whole truth of the event, always taking into cognisance that not all information collected during investigations of cases will necessarily be acceptable or presentable as evidence.

There are times when suspected culprits are acquitted either in a court of law or in disciplinary boards and the presiding officers have always been accused of being biased towards the accused persons. Contrary to this popular belief that cases are won or lost in court, most cases are infact lost during the first hour of an investigation. Thus, it calls for extreme caution on the part of the person doing the investigation so as not to compromise the process.

According to Lee et al (2001), crime scene investigation is the first and most crucial step in any investigation. The old adage that says the first cut is the deepest could be implied here as well. It is prudent for the investigator to seek to discover all the aspects of the criminal or otherwise activities that took place. There should be a clear and guided process to locate and gather physical evidence from the crime scene. This will, at least, give the investigator a starting point to probe.

If, for instance, the issue at hand is of fraud, the crime scene that the investigator needs to take charge of is the place or workstation where the fraud was perpetrated. All the records that are there and that form part of the fraudulent action should be taken note of, recorded and stored in a safe place. If there are computer trails, they also need to be secured enough.

Once one is satisfied that they have identified the type of crime or deviation committed, and having successfully gathered enough evidence, the next step would be to carry out some observations. This may also include evidence from electronic surveillance equipment such as CCTV, if available. If it is a case of fraud, for example, the investigator need to establish whether this was the first time that the culprit committed the act, whether there are any accomplices, what the culprit did or did not do, what was the motive, whether the victim is the company or a client company as well as the amount of prejudice to the victim.

There are cases where the need for experts in various fields should be considered. Examples of experts include accountants/ auditors, doctors, evaluators, fingerprint or handwriting experts and this should be done in line with the provisions of the laws of the land.

Investigators should also establish timeframes for investigations, the earlier the better. There is a common saying that talks of justice delayed being justice denied. Quick and appropriate action can help to do away with future legal challenges and also minimise negative impact on the morale of the workforce.

It is very crucial to keep the investigation confidential and protect the interests of the witnesses. Witnesses should not be intimidated either by the investigating official or the culprit. Extreme circumstances might require recommendations to be made for the removal of the suspect from the workplace via unpaid or paid suspension depending on the organisation policy.

More often, we have heard people talking about interrogation. As an investigator, I would recommend interviewing than interrogating. Interviewing is conducted in a cordial atmosphere where the person being interviewed is more comfortable both physically and psychologically whereas the opposite is true for interrogating. Interrogating is a psychological warfare which may not augur well with some provisions in the bill of rights of the accused person or suspect.

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