Forensic Psychology and Criminal Investigation


Forensic Psychology and Criminal Investigation



Tutor’s Name

4th, April 2013


Part 1: – Vignette 2

A brief description of the common biases and/or heuristics that might have influenced the decision in the vignette

In this vignette, there are a number of biases and heuristics observed. First, the senior officer is already convinced that Mr. Shaw is the offender in the crime. This is a case of representative heuristics. According to Tversky & Kahneman (1974), representativeness causes one to base their decision on similarity and probability. The senior officer has based on the matching information of the possible offender by the BIA with Mr. Shaw’s specifications. He does not conduct any follow-up investigations to prove this, but is considering arresting Mr. Shaw after considerable surveillance.

Similarly, there is the availability heuristic. In this type, Tversky & Kahneman (1974) argue that a person will only use the most available or accessible information to make a decision. This is the same case with the senior officer, who does not perform further investigations to prove the BIA’s report, but is already considering the arrest of Mr. Shaw, basing on the information provided by the BIA. Therefore, in both heuristics, there is the predetermination of the offender by the senior police. This therefore, bars any efforts to conduct further investigations to prove if the suspected offender is responsible or not. This lack of intensive investigation therefore, is likely to result in wrong decision-making.

There is also evidence of confirmation bias. According to Nickerson (1998) and Ask & Granhag (2005), this refers to a case building that only considers one side. In this case, the senior officer has selected the information of provided by Mr. Shaws’ neighbors and molded the facts to fit in the description provided by the BIA. Although Mr. Shaw does not have a criminal history, the senior officer emphasizes that the neighbors claim he is weird, therefore, suggesting a possibility of indulgence in crime. Nonetheless, this makes the officer to settle for Mr. Shaw as the offender, without developing a complete case.

How the biases and/or heuristics might lead to erroneous investigative decision-making

            Biases and heuristics influence the decision-making investigative process negatively. Both the nonprofessionals and experienced researchers are capable of these errors and heuristics. Nonetheless, errors and heuristics in the decision-making investigative process result in fallacies, since the outcome is usually incorrect. According to Tversky and Kahneman (1974), these also result in wrong predictions and estimations. Additionally, heuristics are considered sources of predictable errors and underperformance.

Heuristics and biases in investigative decision-making make the investigator to rush into decision-making for the purpose of convenience (Nickerson, 1998). In this case, therefore, the information gathered will not be used as expected, since the investigator will use the information in a selective manner, and only scrutinize and assess a small part of the information. This therefore, will result in a decision that is incomprehensible, since there were no sufficient efforts employed in an intensive investigation. Overall, biases and heuristics are detrimental to the decision-making investigative process, and therefore, should be controlled.

Explain the advice you might give the investigator to ensure more effective investigative decision-making under the same circumstances.

The objective of an investigation is to collect sufficient information about the crime, so that a decision can be made, with regard to offering a solution to the situation. Therefore, an investigator must conduct the investigation in the most effective way. First, an investigator should not intimidate the witnesses. These should be made to feel at ease, in order to provide the needed information. The investigator should therefore, schedule many meetings and interviews with different people, to help determine the offender in this case. In addition, the investigator must not dwell on their own understanding of a crime and circumstances surrounding the crime, as basis for decision-making. Instead, they ought to involve many witnesses in order to gain a wider insight into the crime situation.

Secondly, an investigator must possess and develop the necessary skills for conducting his or her roles. Investigators should be good communicators, possess interviewing skills, as well as investigative skills, since these two aspects are core to their practice. These skills will help the investigator to get information from the witnesses, which might help in final decision-making.

Finally, the investigator must avoid the errors and heuristics in the investigative process. As Ask & Granhag (2005) note, it is imperative to build a full case for each crime situation and not assess information selectively, to avoid bias. This will help to minimize and avoid wrong decisions, as the outcome of the investigative process.

Part 2:- BIAs and Investigative Decision-Making

Role and importance of a BIA in the investigative decision-making process.

A Behavioral Investigative Adviser (BIA) has an important role to play in the investigative decision-making process. The BIA has an academic background and experience in behavioral sciences, therefore, knowledgeable about the processes of criminal investigation. A BIA is also capable of reading the mind of a criminal and pushing the right buttons through studying the behavior of a criminal to gather information. Therefore, BIAs are important in both the clinical understanding of crime as well as contributing to the process of investigations (Rainbow, Almond & Alison, 2011).

According to Alison, et al (2010), BIA’s might help in prioritizing the suspects. These help to save time spent on the investigative process, since they employ an approach that is evidence-based, rather than basing on irrelevant suspicions. Therefore, this makes the process of decision-making in the investigation easier and faster.

The role of a BIA in the investigative decision-making process also includes linking of crime and crime scenes to help in decision-making. For instance, a BIA might be given the responsibility of determining whether the same offender committed a specific crime or not. This is through a process known as comparative case analysis or case linkage. Besides DNA and other physical evidence, behavioral analysis of an offender and geospatial information are crucial in helping a BIA to link and determine offenders in a crime (Rainbow, Almond & Alison, 2011).

BIAs also play the role of investigative interviewing. These contribute their knowledge and experience to the process of investigation. They are responsible for assessing statements for credibility, and help in evaluating the performance of the interviewer. Their contribution in clinical interviews helps to set a framework through which the collected crime data can be interpreted.  Additionally, a BIA plays a role in risk assessment through offender profiling. The data they gather about the offender and their behavioral dynamics is crucial to forensic practitioners in their overall decision-making (Alison et al, 2010).

Resources a BIA has to support effective investigative decision-making.

A BIA is mainly concerned with the behavioral aspects during the commission of an offence, and uses this as a basis from which to draw their inferences, as well as a basis for their approach in the process of investigation. Therefore, in order to offer adequate support to the investigative decision- making, a BIA must be equipped with a variety of resources, which will ensure his or her efficiency in their practice (Turvey, 2011).

First, a BIA must have an academic orientation from the field of behavioral science. This is essential as it proves that they have the theoretical knowledge required for their work. Additionally, it is imperative that a BIA has access to different reading sources, which contain information that is relevant to his or her practice. These can be libraries, databases, among others. On the other hand, a BIA must have a wide experience in the area of crime investigation. This proves that they are familiar with the investigative process, thus able to offer adequate support to the investigative decision-making. Furthermore, a BIA must be fully conversant with the relevant legislation, as this is a guide to their practice. Additionally, a BIA must possess the qualities of an interrogator or interviewer, as well as an investigator. This is because their work mainly deals with investigations and interviews; therefore, one must be competent to perform these (Turvey, 2011).

How BIAs’ understanding of biases and heuristics may contribute to more effective investigative decision-making.

For effective support in the investigative decision-making process, a BIA must be in a position to understand the biases and heuristics and have in-depth knowledge about them. The biases and heuristics are known to influence the investigative decision-making in a negative manner, thus leading to wrong decision-making. Therefore, in order to ensure effective decision-making, a BIA must be part of the efforts to rule out biases and heuristics in the process of investigation (Newburn, Williamson & Wright, 2012).

When a BIA is in a position to identify common errors and heuristics in normal investigative decision-making, they are then able to assess and determine different errors in the process of investigative decision-making. They can then rectify this by proposing their approach, which is evidence based, in order to avoid errors and spending unnecessary time on the investigative decision-making process (Rainbow, Almond, & Alison, 2011).

Nonetheless, apart from having the capability of understanding errors and heuristics, a BIA must be able to identify them successfully, including their negative impact on the outcome of the investigative process. Additionally, a BIA should be capable of addressing the errors in a diplomatic manner, whenever they arise. This therefore, results in effective decision-making and a positive outcome, since most biases and heuristics will have been eliminated in the investigative process.



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Marshall, B. & Alison, L. (2011). Stereotyping, congruence and presentation order: Interpretive

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