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Wednesday
May302012

[FIND] Expertise - Librarian/Investigator/Salander

Forget what you think you know about librarians. Sure, there are some bespectacled, hair-up-in-a-bun nerdy types still out there, holdovers from the days of Dewey Decimal and card catalogs. But today's hard-core researchers are as likely to sport tattoos and piercings as a group of brainy Suicide Girls, and they are not to be trifled with or in any way underestimated. (Think Lisbeth Salander.)

In a story in the winter 2009 edition of American Libraries titled "The Bunheads are Dead," Ken Haycock and Carla Garner thoroughly dispel the myth of stodgy shushers. Today's librarian is an information analyst, a freedom of information and protection of privacy officer, an information broker. They are highly trained, badass researchers and they likely hold at least a master's degree in library and information sciences (MLIS). 

According to Haycock and Garner, the MLIS students, "...learn higher-order analytical skills for assessing community information needs (whether for a municipality or in the private sector), developing collections of resources to meet those needs, designing programs and services to exploit those resources, and assessing the effectiveness and impact of implemented services." They are, in short, the people you need to access, analyze, and understand information. 

A professional investigator, like a librarian, should be comfortable with in-depth research techniques. Not only should they have access to public records database services, which are necessary, but they should be on a first name basis with the staff at various public offices. They should have the Tax Assessor's phone number on speed dial, have a person in the Planning and Zoning Office, and know the lady at the front desk at the Register of Deeds.
 
And when they have to research in an unfamiliar jusrisdiction, they must have a working knowledge of the process. It's much easier to get information from someone if they think you know the ropes. Your professional investigator will maintain contacts with other professionals in the information industry as well—corporate librarians, investigative journalists, reference librarians, etc.
 
Lisbeth Salander, the fictional bedragoned badass, offers a fantastic example of how this work should be done: Skill, resources, and contacts. Kow how, know where, and know who.
 
Like a librarian, Salander and your professional investigator don't have to know everything, they just have to have an analytical mind, access to resources, and know people who can find/exploit the things they can't.
Tuesday
May082012

[FIND] News - Kidnapping, what to do...

What should you do if someone tries to kidnap you? 

In a word, RUN.

The New York Times ran an article last week in the Thursday paper, "The Business of Dealing With Kidnapping Abroad." 

David Wallis, writer for the Times, interviewed several people for the story. The best tidbit of advice came from a former Navy Seal trainer who said, "Let's be honest, the Navy Seals, when we do renditions, effectively we're doing kidnappings. Nobody is better at it than we are. We are the most organized and not one person, not one of us, was assigned to chase anybody. If we're not chasers, then the bad guys aren't chasers."

So, when backpacking through war-torn Somalia, traipsing through the beautiful jungles of Venezuela, or cabbing your way through the heart of Mexico City, if approached by a gang of kidnappers, one option for the savvy and aware potential victim  -  haul ass...

This summer, [FIND] Investigations will run a brief series of articles about safety abroad. Our very own Agent X will be offering some sage advice from his long career in retrieving kidnap victims. Look for our [FIND] Travel series starting in June.

Until then, safe travels. 

 

Monday
May072012

[FIND] Expertise - How to use your PI - Part 4: Scene of the Crime

In our final installment of How to use your PI, Nashville private investigator, Thomas H. Humphreys, offers a brief overview of crime scene analysis and how a professional investigator can help a busy lawyer.

Review of Crime Scene – Picking Apart the Prosecution's Work

Professional investigators are fact checkers, not advocates; but shoddy work or unscrupulous work by the prosecution should be exploited. A professional investigator with proficiency in police procedures can help you find flaws in work conducted by the police and the prosecution.

If the Officer-in-Charge provides a less-than-detailed narrative description, there may be a problem hiding behind his omissions. Are the first responder’s notes consistent with the OIC’s notes? Are there pages missing (are the pages numbered)? Details, details, details…

You will likely find it beneficial to have your professional investigator visit the crime scene, take pictures, make sketches, verify sight lines, etc. This simple act can turn up revealing inconsistencies.

Example: Key witness told police that he saw defendant beat the victim with a shovel in the alleyway. Police report indicated that witness lived in Apt. 7B. After comparing the crime scene sketches and photographs with the actual building, the investigator realized that apt 7B faced the street, with no windows facing the alleyway. There was no way the key witness in Apt. 7B could see a shovel fight, or anything else, in the alleyway.

The investigator spent two hours on site, measuring, videotaping, and drawing the scene. Upon return to the office, the investigator made a simple two-dimensional sketch showing the exact place of the crime in the alley and the view the witness had from unit 7B. The police tried to explain, but…

Turns out, the witness had a few outstanding warrants when this crime occurred, completely unrelated. The police, based on his later testimony, had indicated that if he said he saw the crime, they would forget about the outstanding warrants. Details, details, details…

Conclusion

 As a criminal defense attorney, people and cases are likely tugging at you from every direction. Why not part out the routine tedium to a qualified professional investigator, and focus on matters of law. Leverage the expertise of your investigator, and you can be more effective. If used properly, a professional investigator can make you look smarter. Instead of burning up hours, most likely expensive hours, of your time canvasing, interviewing, and documenting, hire a professional investigator to do your legwork and, quite possibly, make your case.

NOTE: All anecdotes in this piece have been changed. Location, gender, and case specific details have been altered to avoid revealing any of our client’s information. The stories are taken from [FIND] Investigations case files, fellow professional investigators, and national news items. 

 

Friday
Apr272012

Forensic Appraisal Review

Understanding the appraisal process is key to a forensic appraisal review. Many Certified Fraud Examiners (CFE) understand fraud from a number of detailed perspecitves. Knowledge of generally accepted accounting prinicpals is always good, but to avoid and detect fraud in real estate appraisals, a detailed working knowledge of the appraisal process is required.

Here at [FIND] Investigations we offer a full range of forensic appraisal review services, from indepth field reviews to summary desk reviews. Our well trained staff and stable of expert affiliations allow us to disect an appraisal report and check for proper methodology, verification of data, and adhearance to the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP).

[FIND] Investigations conducts in-depth analysis and offers objective opinions to help resolve valuation issues. Our litigations support services includes advising counsel on discovery, expert competency challenes, and regulatory compliance.

On the topic of regulatory compliance, I have been outspoken in my opinions about USPAP, the document that directs appraisers in their daily professional life.

In an industry that requires thought and creativity, extensive research and analysis - an industry that should be considered a valuable consultancy - we have efffectively regulated ourselves into what many consider a simple commodity. It appears that an attempt to limit competition has turned around and bitten us in the collective ass. The competition has moved in and we find ourselves in a situation where incompetent analysts cling to an enumerated list of rules and completely miss the opportunity to do quality work.

We have studied USPAP ad nauseum. While I don't think the rules should be so detailed and tedious as to be neigh unknowable, I do admit that the rules are the rules. That's why our approach to forensic review assignments emphasises an eye towards overall competency and subject matter expertise. We help our clients to identify regulatory missteps, sure, but our focus is on the big picture.

We will help you pick apart a report for failures in USPAP, but that's really too easy. No one has ever penned a bullit proof appraisal report, which is by definition an opinion. Is that opinion well-reasoned, is it supported by the market, and is it based on accepted methodology?

When you need a proper forensic appraisal review, call us.

Thursday
Apr262012

[FIND] Expertise - How to use your PI - Part 3: The How's Locating Witnesses

Nashville private investigator, Thomas H. Humphreys continues his series on how to best use the talents of your professional investigator.

Part 3 - Locating Witnesses

Trial phase

Once you take a complicated criminal case, call your professional investigator as soon as practicable. A professional investigator will, upon retention, begin working on a list of potential witnesses. Brief your investigator on as many details of the case as possible. Provide your investigator with a full case file: police reports, statements, crime scene photos, sketches, etc. Your investigator is performing work product, which should (in most cases and in most states) be protected.

The first step is to identify and locate all witnesses in the police reports and statements. Obviously, the professional investigator will (should) interview all of the witnesses that the police have identified. Some of them may not want to talk to you, and they don’t necessarily have to, but a good investigator has a very persuasive manner. A professional investigator will be able to deconstruct witness statements, compare and contrast statements taken at various times, and help you to identify flaws and potential areas of exploitation.

The second step, and arguably the most useful, is the neighborhood canvas. A professional investigator will conduct a thorough search for witnesses that the prosecution either could not find, or that the prosecution would rather you not find. A neighborhood canvas is time consuming, tedious, and requires a systematic approach. But, conducted properly, it can unearth valuable, game-changing information. 

The Appeal Phase

Let's say that your client has been found guilty of first-degree murder and received the death penalty. The crime happened in 1992. Your firm, located in New York, took on the habeas case pro bono. The crime occurred in Memphis. Witnesses have moved. People have forgotten, or have claimed forgetfulness. Time, as they say, marched on. Your resources are tight, and the stakes are extremely high. Please, I beg you, hire a private investigator.

Example: A law firm took on an appeals case here in Tennessee. One witness had offered statements which described three variations of the story, with important differences. Her statement to the police said the defendant had blood on her hands. Her statement to the prosecutor claimed the defendant was “covered” in blood. Her statement to the defense read that the defendant had cuts on her fists and bruises on her face.

The witness owned a house in Germantown, TN. Her daughters lived nearby. They didn’t especially want Mom, by then in her late 70s, to face all this badness again. They would not, under any circumstances, reveal where mom was. A professional investigator, who was called in after three years of trying to locate this witness, found her in less than a day.

Turns out, mom had wanted to set the record straight for years. 

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