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Major Case Management.

Key Components

Newspaper headlines, such as "Midtown Rapist Still at Large," and "One Year and Authorities Yet to Solve Celebrity Murder," call attention to major law enforcement cases, and similar headlines have become common in many communities across the nation. Because of the different dynamics involved, the way authorities manage a major case contributes to a wide range of areas that can have positive or negative consequences for an agency. Major case investigations provide opportunities for law enforcement managers beyond case solution. Although major cases eventually will end and fade from the headlines, the agency always will remain under public scrutiny. Therefore, major case managers should strive for particularly strong organization at the end of the investigation.


Major cases have no boundaries within the various investigative responsibilities of law enforcement agencies. Regardless of the specific type of crime, most major cases share the following common elements: length in duration, similar types of criminal activity, multiagency involvement, impact on personnel and resources, and a great deal of media attention at the outset or conclusion. [1] While law enforcement agencies should generally investigate major cases much like any other case (i.e., according to existing protocols), they should manage them differently than regular cases.

At some point, most law enforcement agencies will have a major case to investigate. During normal operations, the public may perceive an agency as very effective in its responsibilities, affording little review of its efforts; however, during a major case investigation, the agency can expect additional attention and scrutiny. The public expects the police to solve the case, and failure to do so may result in damage to the agency's image and credibility.

Major cases do not end with the solution of the case. Major case managers who monitor the needs of the various elements of the case contribute to the solution of the case, as well as to the overall positive development of the organization.


Researchers have identified five significant elements that can influence the outcome of major cases--the mission statement, the role of each participant, the identity of the stakeholders, the perception of the stakeholders, and the attention given to the long-term impact of the case. [2] By using these five elements as a guide, managers can increase the chances of a successful case outcome.

The Mission Statement

Managers must develop a mission statement and ensure all individuals involved in the investigative effort understand it at the outset of the case. The mission statement should define the organization's purpose and incorporate the necessities for case solution, as well as the enduring responsibilities expected beyond case solution. [3] An effective mission establishes attainable goals and objectives, which help investigators track progress by providing precise targets and immediate feedback. Also, they help define what the organization seeks to accomplish through its ongoing, long-term operations. [4] For example, in a serial rapist case, the mission would be to identify and arrest the rapist. In addition, the mission can incorporate such objectives as meeting the needs for prosecution, allaying public fears, identifying related crimes, and disrupting the perpetrators' future criminal activity.

Often, major case investigations involve multiagencies. In such joint task forces, the mission statement can incorporate an objective of meeting the individual needs of participating agencies. If the same individual commits crimes in multiple jurisdictions, then each agency should consider other victims' needs as well. The mission would include gathering evidence to solve all of the crimes committed by the suspect, and goals within the mission can include gathering evidence to solve the individual rapes. After managers specify the mission and goals of the case, they must place them into action through an operating strategy--a broad plan of action for pursuing and achieving the goals and satisfying the mission. [5]

The Role of Participants

Case managers must identify participants and define their role within the major case team. This remains particularly important when those involved in the case have not worked together previously. If management and others involved do not understand or agree to their roles, conflict may arise, especially when investigators from other agencies participate. Managers of major cases can prevent such conflicts by delineating responsibilities at the onset and fully explaining their expectations, which should answer questions, such as--

* who is part of the decision-making group;

* will the team use a participant's particular expertise;

* what is the specific role of prosecutors in controlling the direction of the investigation;

* how will hostage negotiators participate in the commander's advisory team;

* which agency will take the lead in multiagency investigations; and

* can the media spokesperson talk to the media without direction?

Several problems can arise in this area that may decrease a group's effectiveness. [6] First, role conflict, or the incompatibility between a role's requirements and an individual's own beliefs, attitudes, or expectations. Second, role ambiguity, where the role recipients do not understand their specific actions or responsibilities in the case or an individual's actual behavioral requirements are not clear. Studies of roles in the work environment have identified that the negative relationship of role ambiguity and role conflict remains stronger among individuals who report a higher need for clarity in the work setting. The same individuals place this area of clarity above control of their environment or assignment. [7] The pressures on major case managers for solution may cause them to place excessive demands on their staff by assigning additional investigative or administrative tasks that they may not be suited for. In doing so, the case manager contributes to another factor that may decrease a group's eff ectiveness--role overload, where an individual becomes overwhelmed by the job's requirements.

By identifying personnel and defining and explaining their roles, managers can minimize conflicts that will affect the ability to meet the mission of the major case team. Case managers should not assume that individuals understand their role and must make the effort to assure that all participants know what they expect of them.

The Stakeholders Identity

Successful case strategies consider the implications of both internal and external stakeholders. Stakeholders who believe that the process recognizes their interests and rights and can compare them with those of other stakeholders will develop trust in the mission of the organization. [8]

Case managers should consider who and what the case impacts. Once managers identify the stakeholders, they should consider the needs of the individual stakeholders and if they will affect the achievement of the mission.

In the example involving the serial rapist, the victims and investigators are the internal stakeholders. Initially, the external stakeholders are the families of victims and the communities where the crimes occurred; however, as the case progresses, additional external stakeholders may appear, such as the media, public officials, medical personnel, or additional communities.

The Perception of Stakeholders

Perception refers to a process where individuals receive, organize, and interpret information from their environment. [9] How individuals judge another person or event is influenced by their ability to retrieve relevant information, how easily they can retrieve the information, and the visibility of the event or behavior.

Perceptions of stakeholders in major cases affect how they participate in strategy implementation. [10] Because people can hold different views on the same situation, the interpretation of the meaning of a particular event determines how these individuals will react. [11] Research has shown, due to influence of past experiences and socialization, people from varying cultural environments can perceive similar events quite differently. [12] When stakeholders perceive something, they essentially attempt to fit that event into a preestablished frame of reference. [13] As a result, managers must remain conscientious of how others perceive their actions, comments, or reputation. [14]

The information individuals expect to see or hear also can influence perception. Oftentimes, people hear what they expect to hear, rather than what a person actually said. [15] Individuals use a system that filters out some messages while paying more attention to others. When people receive information that conflicts with what they believe, they tend to ignore it or distort it to make it conform to their beliefs, which can reduce the effectiveness of communication. [16] This remains important when dealing with external stakeholders because they often hold perceptions of authorities based on their previous experiences that may not match reality. For example, if major case managers develop a decision process that solicits input from stakeholders, and previous experiences of the stakeholders did not involve a collaborative approach, they may not recognize it as such.

Negative publicity about the agency, unrelated to the case, may influence how stakeholders develop their frame of reference. [17] Ultimately, when individuals perceive behavior of other individuals differently from the way it was intended, a limited effective working relationship will result. [18]

If the public perceives police as capable of performing their job, then it remains easier to persuade the public to have confidence in their abilities. If the media perceives the police as candid and truthful in their comments, they will likely have fewer questions on the investigative efforts.

By remembering that different individuals can perceive the organization and its mission in various ways, whether factual or distorted, managers can become more effective in dealing with stakeholders. Experts believe that even when individuals only perceive a situation as real, it often results in real consequences. [19]

The Long-term Solution

Case managers should not focus only on the short-term solution of the case but the long-term impact of the investigative effort on future organizational endeavors. Burdening investigators with making decisions with long-term impact can detract from their immediate efforts at case solution. Managers need to consider the implications of the investigative effort on such areas as organizational credibility, budget, stakeholder acceptance of organizational initiatives, development of personnel, ability to provide expected services, and developing confidence in organizational capabilities from public officials who impact on agency operations.

When major cases occur, pressures exist from internal and external stakeholders to solve the case. [20] These pressures often cause managers to lose sight of the long-range implications of the investigative efforts. The enhanced scrutiny of major cases brings additional pressure for solution and also can contribute to adding resources otherwise not available, enhancing the professional reputation of the organization, developing positive perceptions of the organization, and providing experiences that will improve future major case responses.

Managers who have an expanded focus during a major case contribute to the overall organizational goals, not just the goals of the case. For example, if an agency plans to participate in future task forces, they can contribute to these future experiences by developing positive experiences with other agencies involved in the ongoing major case, resulting in the enhancement of the department's reputation and a positive perception from individuals involved.


Anecdotal evidence shows that methods in which managers handle their responsibilities ultimately impacts the overall success or failure of the case. Although the solution of a case may not always require direct influence or involvement from management, individuals subsequently reviewing a case may not gauge the success of its management on the solution, but rather on the impact the investigation had on different elements involved in the case. Effective investigation coupled with effective management will equate to success. Major cases demand more than solution--they bring with them expectations of a management effort that encompasses more than an investigative focus. By identifying and focusing on key elements of major cases, managers can contribute to the entire process of major case management.

Mr. Carroll, a retired FBI special agent, now heads a private security firm in Ft. Collins, Colorado.


(1.) "Major Case Management," FBI Management Quarterly 6, no. 2 (Spring 1986): 1.

(2.) The author has identified these elements through discussions with investigators and law enforcement executives and reviews of forums, such as FBI-sponsored seminars in law enforcement executive development, major case management for police managers, and training for foreign police executives in major case management.

(3.) J. P. Ivancevich, P. Lorenzi, S. J. Skinner, and P. B. Crosby, Management - Quality and Competitiveness, 2nd ed., (Chicago, IL: Irwin, 1997), 195.

(4.) Ibid., 197-198.

(5.) Ibid., 184.

(6.) Ibid., 300.

(7.) Michael P. O'Driscoll and Terry A. Beehr, "Moderating Effects of Perceived Control and Need for Clarity on the Relationship Between Role Stressors and Employee Affective Reactions," The Journal of Social Psychology, April 2000, 151.

(8.) Supra note 3, 200.

(9.) James L. Bowditch and Anthony F. Buono, A Primer on Organizational Behavior, (New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons, 1994), 124.

(10.) Supra note 1.

(11.) Supra note 9, 104.

(12.) Supra note 9, 108.

(13.) Supra note 9, 106.

(14.) Supra note 1.

(15.) Supra note 9, 111.

(16.) Supra note 3, 381.

(17.) Supra note 3, 381.

(18.) Supra note 9, 127.

(19.) Supra note 9, 127.

(20.) Supra note 1.
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Article Details
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Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2001
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