MOUNT VERNON — Detective shows on television are more popular than ever, showcasing a make-believe world where crimes are solved in 30 minutes, using rooms filled with computers spitting out instant answers to complicated scientific problems.
Local detectives say those shows may give people an unrealistic picture of what is involved with actual investigations, which can involve weeks or months of persistent, dedicated police work to solve.
“Detective work — no matter where you’re at — just boils down to going out, knocking on doors and talking to people,” said Detective Cpl. Matt Dailey of the Mount Vernon Police Department.
“We use computers, we use forensics to help solve crimes, but those are all just tools,” explained Dailey. “Hair samples, DNA, fingerprints, background checks, financial records — everything we use is a tool.”
Dailey said the interviewing and investigative skills detectives gain throughout their career can be just as crucial to solving crimes as the extensive scientific tools police officers now have at their disposal.
“We rarely have just one thing that solves a crime,” Dailey said. “It’s a whole bunch of things — everything compiled to make a case.”
Knox County Sheriff David Barber said his detectives sometimes rely on other agencies for assistance with evidence collection and the processing of forensic evidence due to the complicated, scientific nature of such procedures.
“That’s why we call them; because that’s what they do and they do it every day,” Barber said of the specialized skills technicians from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation bring to a criminal investigation.
Dailey and Barber said the detectives from the MVPD and the KCSO are trained to handle any kind of investigation, although the detectives tend to specialize in certain areas.
“They’re all expected to handle any kind of investigation — whether it’s identity theft or a homicide,” Barber said.
“The four detectives here are cross-trained in everything from bad checks to homicides,” Dailey said of the MVPD detectives.
The detectives have each received specialized training through the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy in London and advanced training from other agencies.
Detectives may have areas where they have received more advanced training, such as narcotics investigations or computer crimes, and all investigations of crimes against children in the city and county are usually referred to a KCSO detective who is an expert in solving crimes against children.
Dailey said detectives generally cultivate their own leads, and sometimes receive assignments from their superiors, or requests for help from patrol officers.
Dailey said patrol officers do conduct some investigations on their own, as well as assisting the detectives with investigations. Cooperation between officers, as well as between agencies, can be critical to solving crime in a small community.
“We actually wouldn’t solve as many crimes as we do without our patrol officers on the street, probation officers from municipal court, adult parole officers from Common Pleas, and the sheriff’s office, OSP, Danville and Fredericktown,” Dailey said. “It’s a two-way street.”
Detectives depend not only on local agencies for cooperation, but state and federal agencies as well. These include the Drug Enforcement Agency, Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the FBI and the Ohio Division of State Fire Marshal.
Although the MVPD and KCSO may not have the same resources larger departments enjoy, local investigators can reach out to a wealth of resources for assistance in an investigation. Detectives from smaller local agencies have to be ready for any kind of investigation, and prepared to request help from the appropriate agency when the investigation requires it.
“It has its advantages and disadvantages,” Dailey said of the relatively small size of the four-man detective division, which is comprised of himself, Detective Sgt. Jeff Jacobs, and detectives Craig Feeney and David McElroy.
“When you have detectives that have been trained for multiple things, they can actually be a lot better trained for a multitude of things,” Dailey explained.
“The flip side of that is the larger departments have people who are specialized for different things,” he continued. “They have a unit that just lifts fingerprints and they have their own lab.”
The detectives at the MVPD and the sheriff’s office have been chosen by their superiors based on their previous work as patrol officers and deputies on the street.
Dailey said the detectives enjoy their work tremendously, and find satisfaction in solving the crimes which have damaged the community in some way.
Investigators from both departments said they would like the public to better understand that most local crimes are solved — just not in an hour, or even a day.
“Just because the crime isn’t solved that day, and there are procedures you have to go through, doesn’t mean it will not ultimately be solved,” Dailey said.
“Over the last two years, crimes have gone up significantly, and sometimes you’re just overwhelmed,” he said. “We actually solve a pretty large percentage of crimes compared to other departments.”
Barber said the county detectives have a high success rate as well.
“I have total confidence in all my investigators,” he said.
Detectives may feel they know “in their gut” how an investigation will pan out. But Dailey said they must follow the appropriate procedures, keep an open mind and wait for evidence confirmation before making an arrest.
“We try to stay objective and don’t take sides on things, trying to sit back as the neutral third party,” Dailey said. “We’d rather let 10 guilty people go than have one innocent person in jail.”
This story is the first in a series on modern law enforcement. The series will feature discussions with law enforcement agents, including local detectives, forensic experts and Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, who oversees the operations of the Ohio Bureau of Identification and Investigation.