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Investigation fundamentals for Authorised Officers

Peak Services local government investigations specialist, Gregory Lamey, explains that having the right mindset is just as important as the skills to investigate non-compliance in the sector.

Council investigations by authorised officers can take many forms from simple identification of breaches to complex matters involving considerable time and resources. And while relevant personnel involved in investigations are trained and authorised under the Local Government Act 1993 – or other relevant acts (like the Animal Management (Cats and Dogs) Act 2008 – this training does not always prepare them adequately to conduct an successful investigation.

Investigation courses cover the essentials; planning, conducting and finalising investigations. But there’s a lot in between a competent investigator needs to know, with requisite skills and experience allowing participants to ‘put into practice’ the theoretical aspects of investigating non-compliance. And not only are these skills essential for local laws officers, rangers, environmental health officers, animal management and parking officers, but necessary for supervisors, managers and those personnel involved in any type of investigation, including workplace matters.

 

Being able to fuse together their powers under relevant legislation with good investigative practice is the real key to successful investigation outcomes in local government.

So, what does it take to be a good, competent investigator?

The first thing is mindset. In other words, the traits that a person needs to have, or ought to have, in order to be a good investigator. Things like communication might seem obvious, but there’s a real skill in being able to actively listen, question effectively and write objective, factual reports. Knowing how to take good witness statement, elicit the most information and interview persons of interest are skills that require specific training. Scientific methods of interviewing like the PEACE method are invaluable to investigators across all government and private sectors.

But there are many traits and skills that can’t be taught in a traditional sense, but nonetheless are as important. Structured investigations training prepares compliance professionals to think outside the box, take calculated risks and apply good and effective research methodology to their jobs, and the powers and authorisations they have. So why they’re learning important skills, participants are also building their resilience, objectivity, questioning and listening skills, observation, decisiveness and persistence.

These traits, combined with real life skills in investigative interviewing, taking statements, planning, conducting briefings, interpreting legislation, elementising offences and breaches, gathering evidence, searching and seizing, exhibits managements and building briefs of evidence build an investigator’s knowledge base.

 

From an organisational viewpoint this leads to greater professionalism, less failed prosecutions and a greater confidence in compliance across the board.

Accredited and non-accredited investigations training not only gives participants real-world skills they can immediately put into practice, but also provides baselines for future professional practice.

An example is the importance of ‘procedural fairness’ in investigations. The application of the principles of natural justice in training participants ultimately leads to less prosecutorial risk and better compliance outcomes in matters before administrative tribunals (such as QCAT) and Magistrates Courts. And it’s a concept that is embedded in all investigations; from serious dog attacks and building compliance, to workplace and HR investigations.

The concept of investigative mindset if foreign to traditional training that focus solely on core demonstrable skills. It’s the use of relevant case studies, scenarios and work group activities that make the difference. Notwithstanding the applied knowledge needed, good investigations training also focuses on and tests key traits of objectivity, non-bias, persistence, initiative and nous. Risk-taking is another area that real-world practice gives students exposure to, outside of the legal and administrative constraints of the workplace.

The council investigator today works in an environment that is constantly changing. Not only in terms of legislation and policy/procedures, but in the methods of gathering evidence and the use of technology. Best practice in investigative practice is no longer seen as something just for law enforcement, but is applicable across all fields of investigation, both government and private.

With local councils in the spotlight more than ever, it’s important to have trained and developed compliance professionals implementing best practice across their sector.