Printer Friendly

Investigative Uses of Computers.

Analytical Time Lines

How often has a defense attorney exploited a gap in an investigator's case without the investigator realizing this obvious discrepancy existed? How can investigators work on complex cases with developing information that proves difficult to assimilate? How can they keep track of a myriad of case facts used during interviews and interrogations and meetings with prosecutors, task forces, or management? Do they struggle to keep track of which leads they have covered? The solution to any or all of these problems may lie in time line analysis--a simple application of readily available computer software.

Using time lines will often prove more productive for these issues as well as enable investigators to virtually eliminate duplication of effort and inefficiencies during the course of an investigation. This concept also will help investigators quickly track and retrieve information that took numerous hours to develop.


Many disciplines, such as management science and psychology, have used time lines for analytical purposes for decades. Studies dating as far back as 1917 focused on using time lines in production and scheduling. Early management pioneers employed time lines to represent the start and duration of tasks in production analysis for scheduling resources. [1] In 1958, these early efforts evolved into a scheduling technique that incorporates the interrelationships of tasks called Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT). [2] One recent study involves a seven-step process, termed the Critical Decision Method, which discusses the use of time lines in cognitive task analysis. [3] Step five of this process uses time lines to chronologically capture the salient events within an incident, allowing the expert to verify the time line during its construction. In a more fundamental application, farmers have advocated the use of time lines to improve grain drying and the handling and storage of farm commodities. [4]


Time line analysis can help law enforcement investigators record and analyze large amounts of data, prepare for witness interviews, and write affidavits. Additionally, the time line can assimilate the voluminous information gathered from investigative techniques, such as search warrants, record reviews, and wire taps. A time line can help during interrogations by providing investigators with succinct information that will aid in accusing subjects and may help to redirect protests made by subjects concerning their guilt. The time line also gives investigators a tool for presenting their case, logically and concisely, to others, such as managers, prosecutors, and grand jurors. Whether in simple handwritten form or in a sophisticated multimedia program, the time line also can serve as an invaluable tool throughout the case process.

Interviewing Application

Experienced investigators know that the first step in a structured interview is preparation, which includes reviewing case facts. [5] Investigators can use the time line to study case facts before the interview and refer to it during the interview to verify the interviewee's information. Having the time line available will aid investigators in determining the truthfulness of the individual and help keep a potentially large number of facts in order during a complex investigation. Investigators should update the time line by adding pertinent information to it after each interview.

Interrogation Application

An interrogation differs significantly from the interview in several ways. While the objective of an interview is to gain information, the objective of an interrogation is to gain a confession. An interrogation generally involves the subject of the investigation, whereas the interview usually involves a witness. A witness interview can turn into an interrogation if the interviewer believes the individual has become the focus of the investigation as a result of the interview. [6]

In the first stages of an interrogation, an investigator confronts the subject. [7] A time line may help the interrogator convincingly make this accusation. Next, the investigator may need to cut off denials, redirect protests, and provide reasons for the subject to confess. [8] The time line would help investigators accomplish this by providing them quick and easy access to case facts, thereby enhancing the probability of a confession.

Other Applications

Time lines have other uses pertinent to law enforcement. Behavioral science experts advocate developing and maintaining a time line for information collected about a particular subject, indicating whether a person behaves with some consistency over time. [9] This could prove useful for court purposes or for further evaluation by documenting aspects of a subject's behavior and mental state. Time lines also serve as an excellent method for law enforcement administrators to enhance crime surveys that help track crime problems in their jurisdictions and to determine where they should apply their resources.

Courts can benefit from using time lines to track subjects through the judicial process. This ensures that the courts have completed all the appropriate procedures both before and after adjudication. Additionally, the time line also can help visually depict case facts to a prosecutor, grand jury, magistrate, or judge.


Various affordable spreadsheet programs exist that investigators can use to effectively construct time lines. After becoming familiar with the program's drawing and hyperlinking tools, all levels of users can create fairly sophisticated time lines.

Consolidating Time Lines

Creating a master or consolidated time line represents one goal of using this type of software. To produce a master time line, investigators should develop individual time lines for each investigative step that deserves documenting, such as witness interviews, search warrant reports, record reviews, or surveillance logs. When grouped, they form the master time line that investigators could use to compare events developed from various facets of the investigation. For example, when investigators conduct an interview, they need to analyze the information and place the salient facts, in chronologic order, on a time line for the interview and on a master time line for the case. In doing so, investigators can quickly view these events to determine subsequent courses of action.

In a murder investigation, witnesses' statements that they observed the subject with a weapon on a certain date before the crime represents a significant event that investigators would place on a time line. In a fraud investigation, the investigator would document a subpoenaed record reflecting the transfer of a large sum of money to a bank account on the time line. As the investigator places each event on the time line, an outline of the case, which investigators can continue to build on, emerges. Investigators should modify the time line as the case develops or facts change. By continually updating the time line, investigators can use it for a variety of purposes, such as analyzing the investigation to date or analyzing potential subsequent investigations to help identify appropriate leads or courses of action that would bring a case to a logical conclusion. As investigators analyze the master time line, they should consider possible shortcomings in the overall investigation. This analysis will help investi gators develop a strong case and disclose a possible course of action for subsequent investigation. The master time line also may provide managers or prosecutors a quick reference for case presentation or aid investigators in conducting further interviews or interrogations.

Linking Time Lines

Time lines can contain much more than a simple chronology of events. Many software programs allow investigators to add other data to time lines through hyperlinks, which allow users to electronically cross-reference documents. In doing so, investigators can incorporate photographs, additional reports, scanned documents, video material, and other digitized data into the time line. Simply clicking on the hyperlink allows investigators to view the corresponding information in its appropriate program. This allows investigators access to an evidence-retrieval mechanism that can double as a presentation tool.


The following sample case shows the concept of using a time line. However, the time lines in this sample are oversimplified for illustrative purposes. Obviously, in an actual investigation, the time line could contain dozens if not hundreds of events. Most software programs allow investigators to augment time lines and can handle voluminous case information.

The crime in this case involves the theft of $50,000 from the bank vault of the National Bank of Anytown (NBA). In conducting the investigation, investigators initially interviewed NBA's Branch Manager James Adams and bank teller Joan Smith.

Adams Interview

Investigators gleaned pertinent information regarding this crime from the Adams interview. Analysts would then place the salient points on a time line.

* Teller Jesse Jones has appeared somewhat unhappy at work.

* Jones asked for a raise on 2/13/99, which management denied.

* Jones acted as head teller from 2/13/99 through 2/15/99, and, as a result, had legitimate access to the bank vault.

* An audit conducted on 2/17/99 discovered a $50,000 shortage, which prompted this investigation.

* Jones was observed in a new car on 2/22/99.

* Jones was observed wearing a new expensive watch on 2/24/99.

Smith Interview

Smith also provided relevant information during her interview. Investigators can create a summary of her information and place it on the time line.

* Jones complained about her finances on 2/12/99.

* Jones complained about being denied a raise on 2/14/99.

* Smith dropped Jones off at the car dealer Imports, Ltd. to pick up a new car on 2/19/99.

* Smith met the car salesman and saw the new car.

* Jones was boasting about an expensive watch she received as a gift on 2/23/99.

Bank Records Review

A review of bank personnel records indicated that Jones had a checking account at NBA. A subsequent review of this account (resulting from a subpoena) showed transactions worthy of placing on the time line.

* A cash deposit of $19,000 was made on 2/19/99.

* A cash deposit of $8,750 was made on 2/20/99.

* A wire transfer to Imports, Ltd. in the amount of $22,000 was made on 2/21/99.

* A cash withdrawal of $3,000 was made on 2/22/99.

As a result of the obtained information, investigators conducted a follow-up interview at Imports, Ltd., with the salesman Bill Williams. Investigators added the significant data to the time line.

Williams Interview

* On 2/20/99, Imports, Ltd. received an $8,000 cash deposit from Jones for a new car.

* Jones purchased a new car for $30,000 using a wire transfer for the balance of $22,000 on 2/21/99.

* Williams met Smith when Jones came to pick up the new car on 2/21/99.

Time Line Review

Up to this point, investigators have created a time line for each witness and the record review of the checking account. Analysts can compare these time lines by building a master time line, which they should perform as the investigation progresses. By creating and constantly reviewing and updating each individual time line, investigators can look for inconsistencies in the investigation and logically conduct subsequent investigations.

A review of the consolidated time line reflects a discrepancy between the witness statements of Smith and Williams. Smith indicates that she gave Jones a ride to the car dealership and met Williams on 2/19/99, wherein Williams indicates that meeting occurred on 2/21/ 99. A time line analysis can show this discrepancy in a more obvious fashion.

Investigators must resolve this conflict through a follow-up interview of one or both witnesses or decide upon another course of action to verify the accuracy of the witness statements. Use of time lines in this fashion prove most effective in managing case information. The value of time line analysis becomes most apparent when these types of discrepancies exist in an investigation because they become visual. If investigators cannot eliminate discrepancies, at least a time line can alert them to possible issues that a prosecutor must diffuse before trial.


The law enforcement community handles many complex criminal investigations each year. Administrators constantly must look for ways to help investigators deal with the difficulty of assimilating vast amounts of information inherent in managing complicated cases. Time line analysis can provide investigators with a method of quickly tracking and retrieving information that they may have spent many hours developing.

Once investigators have constructed time lines and completed all of the supporting links to the digitized evidence, they can make comparisons to obviate problems in the investigation. Subsequent investigations become apparent and case resolution is enhanced. Additionally, investigators can access all of the supporting evidence with the click of a mouse. Time lines enable investigators to search for specific information should a trial attorney require them to do so. Investigators who use time lines may begin with a seemingly common spreadsheet program but become armed with a powerful and impressive tool that helps them to better manage their cases.

Special Agent Meyer teaches interviewing and interrogation at the FBI Academy.

Special Agent Morgan teaches computer crime investigations at the FBI Academy.


(1.) Samuel C. Certo, Modern Management: Diversity, Quality, Ethics, and the Global Environment (Boston, Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon, 1994), 198--199.

(2.) Joseph Horowits, Critical Path Scheduling: Management Control Through CPM and PERT (New York, New York: Ronald Press Company, 1967).

(3.) Robert R. Hoffman, Beth Crandall, and Nigel Shadbolt, "Use of the Critical Decision Method to Elicit Expert Knowledge: A Case Study in the Methodology of Cognitive Task Analysis" Human Factors, June 1998, 254--276.

(4.) Larry Reichenberger, "A Bottleneck at the Bins (Tips to Improve Grain Drying)," Successful Farming, November 1997, 27--29.

(5.) John E. Hess, Interviewing and Interrogation (Cincinnati, Ohio: Anderson Publishing Co., 1997), 9-10.

(6.) Don Rabon, Interviewing and Interrogation (Durham, North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press, 1992), 5.

(7.) "The Reid Technique of Interviewing and Interrogation," John E. Reid and Associates, Inc., Chicago, Illinois, 1998.

(8.) Michael R. Napier and Susan H. Adams, "Magic Words to Obtain Confessions," FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, October 1998, 11--15.

(9.) Anthony J. Pinizzotto and George D. Deshazor, "Interviewing Erratic Subjects," FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, November 1997, 1--5.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Federal Bureau of Investigation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:computer programs effective in organizing data gathered during criminal investigations
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Aug 1, 2000
Previous Article:Sheriff's Office.
Next Article:Rethinking Investigative Priorities.

Related Articles
Criminal Investigation Assessment Unit.
The investigative support detail.
Managing major case investigations: suggestions for supervisors.
Crime prevention and the electronic frontier.
Investigative planning: creating a strong foundation for white-collar crime cases.
Basic Investigative Protocol for Child Sexual Abuse.
Unsolved Case Fingerprint Matching.
Enterprise Theory of Investigation.
Washington State's crime-fighting tool. (HITS/SMART).(Homicide Investigative Tracking System! Supervision Management And Recidivist Tracking). )
Notes for the occasional major case manager.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters