What makes a successful volume crime investigator?

  • Martin Patrick Oneill

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This exploratory study sought to understand the role of volume crime investigators in the modern era. It attempted to gain officers` perceptions on the attributes required to be a successful at the role. In addition, the research sought to understand how modern investigators thought success should be defined and measured in relation to individual investigator performance. Chapter One explored previous research relating to police investigators and success, and identified the main research questions that define the programme of research. Key considerations were whether success could be identified, how it could be measured and whether high performers could be distinguished from their peers.Thirty attributes were identified from previous research to form part of Studies One and Two. Study One examined volume crime investigators` perceptions of their role, success and the skills and abilities required to be successful were identified using a questionnaire. Findings were consistent with previous research, as respondents ranked areas such as communication skills, commitment, dedication, decision-making and motivation highly. Surprisingly, areas such as education, stability, empathy, training and intelligence ranked lower than expected. Respondents appeared consistent in suggesting detections as a measure of success but with a caveat that it was not utilised as the sole measurement of success.
Study Two asked investigators to identify successful investigators from amongst their peers. Respondents appeared to choose peers who were older, more experienced and trained in investigation and various themes were explored as to why this may have been the case. Respondents also ranked the thirty attributes on the basis of how prevalent they were in successful peers. These rankings were not entirely consistent with Study One rankings. Areas such as experience and persistence ranked higher, although stability, education, training, empathy and intelligence still ranked low.In Study Three high and low performers were identified by objective means. Several obstacles were encountered in trying to obtain relevant data from the participating forces. The range of data available was surprisingly low in the modern era. High and low detection sets were compared to each other, as well as to the high and low choice sets identified from Study Two. Age and length of service reduced, and the high detection set contained only a third of the high choice set, suggesting that respondents ability to distinguish high performers was far from foolproof, and may have been rooted in cultural beliefs about effectiveness. High and low performing groups were identified and compared. In Study Four, high and low performers were compared in relation to mean scores achieved on the NEO personality inventory. This measured respondents in five personality domains and thirty individual facets. There were no significant differences between the groups in relation to the domains, and there was only one significant difference in relation to the facet of gregariousness. This relates to a persons sociability and is part of the domain of Extraversion. No correlations were found between scores achieved and objective and subjective measures of success. Training stood out as a significant difference between the groups, with almost all those in the high performing group being trained in the national investigator programme as opposed to fewer trained in the low performing group. Various reasons were posited for this difference, but it is possible that this result demonstrates the effectiveness of investigator training. Study Five compared each group in relation to critical thinking skills, as respondents in previous studies had ranked reasoning, judgment and decision-making as important to success. There were no significant differences in relation to overall scores or individual subset scores. Correlations were found between overall test scores, individual subset scores and manager performance ratings, suggesting that a relationship exists. Various reasons were explored for the lack of difference between the groups, and it was posited that dispositional factors might make a difference as to whether an investigator used their innate skills. Study Six compared each group in relation to scores achieved on Ravens Standard Progressive Matrices (a test designed to measure intellectual capacity), as well as the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (designed to measure multiple dimensions of empathy. Both of these areas ranked low in respondents rankings in previous studies.
No significant differences were discovered in relation to either intelligence or empathy, nor were any correlations found with objective or subjective measures of success. The SPM measures fluid intelligence. It does not measure crystallised intelligence or indeed other forms of intelligence. Whilst it might be tempting to suggest that intelligence plays no part in the success or otherwise of investigations because of the negative finding here, caution is needed. This study does not explore other forms of intelligence, nor does it explore dispositional factors that might make a difference as to whether an individual uses their abilities. Chapter Eight discusses the programme of research, considers methodological issues, and makes suggestions for further research.

Date of Award30 Jun 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorBecky Milne (Supervisor), John Grieve (Supervisor) & John Bull (Supervisor)

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