Investigation Procedures

Should the incident be investigated?

The first question for a local authority when it becomes aware of an incident taking, or having taken, place, is whether it should apply its resources to investigating the matter.

A local authority may want to screen any incidents it has become aware of against a set of priorities for the inspection of incidents. This may result in some matters getting more urgent attention.

Usually a decision about whether to pursue an investigation cannot be made until after the first inspection. That inspection should determine whether a contravention within the local authority's jurisdiction is likely to have taken place.

If the local authority has jurisdiction, it may then want to consider the challenges likely to be raised by detecting the offender, proving the non-complying act or omission, and dealing with any environmental effects - as well as the relative significance of the matter. This will help the local authority program its response efficiently as amongst all the cases that demand its attention.

Each incident will be different and decisions will need to be made on a case-by-case basis.

Planning the investigation

During the investigation, it is often helpful to plan both generally, and for particular inspections and interviews. Planning becomes even more important for more complex cases, where a range of possibilities present themselves. The kinds of questions enforcement officers may ask themselves include:

  • What do we believe happened? Who did it and why? What are the most likely alternatives to our current beliefs?

  • Which avenues of inquiry are likely to be most productive? What capabilities and specialised skills do we have, or need to obtain, in order to gather and process evidence? How can we use these to set priorities?

  • If we are having difficulties proving the offence occurred, or have doubts about our theory of the case, is there something we have overlooked that indicates there could be another party, another motive, or another past activity relevant to the offending?

  • What were the relationships involved in the offending? Who committed, permitted, assisted, or was a principal? Who was likely to have been in the same place at the same time? Who advises the suspects, keeps their records? What other parties may have unwittingly handled or cross-contaminated evidence before the investigation began?

Teamwork is an important part of complex investigations. If the case is proving challenging, consider asking for partners in solving it: help could come from another compliance person or, if you are sole-charge, a planner or team leader who has an interest.

All the tools of group-thinking and problem solving can be drawn on. At the simplest level you might brainstorm and white-board your leads and ask what more you can do with them. A good resource is the MindTools website .