Criminal Investigation: Multijurisdictional Task Force


            Criminal investigations are sometimes complex and marred by strict operational requirements. This paper models situations that investigators are likely to face in a case characterized by multiple explosions that cut across two states. The aspect of having two states involved in the case raises jurisdictional issues and further questions on which authorities will be responsible for conducting the investigations. To provide further guidance, this paper will evaluate numerous issues that have an effect to the case including; the different dynamics of the decision to involve a taskforce, pros and cons of the task force, evidence collection and analysis, legal issues, testimonial evidence, and information dissemination to different interested parties.

Investigative Task Force

  1. Assuming that legal authority was not an issue, should this investigation be conducted by VPD personnel or a multijurisdictional task force?

The question of who between VPD personnel and a multijurisdictional task force should conduct the investigation is better answered after considering the operational capabilities of both in terms of assets and equipment, the origin of the attacks, and jurisdictional authority. A multijurisdictional task force should solve the case instead of using the VPD personnel. It is clear that the case cuts across two different jurisdictions and seven counties. In the original location of the attack, the authority with jurisdiction – the VPD has severe deficiencies in terms of assets, which can be supplemented by other authorities with interest. Importantly noted, the assets at VPD should continue to handle other normal operations on top of having this investigation without compromising on the quality of either. Given the magnitude and scope of the case at hand, it is appropriate for a multijurisdictional task force to take over the case.

  • At what point should the potential of establishing an investigative task force be considered?

The case would have become a multi-jurisdictional affair with the going off, of the first explosion. Such crimes often cut across jurisdictions and cannot be satisfactorily taken up by single authorities. Expertise, assets, and access rights to important databases are simple, but critical additives that come with a multijurisdictional task force. If the action was taken up after the first explosion, there was a window to catch up with the criminals and ensure that justice is served. Having multiple agencies right from the beginning is critical in ensuring that important gaps are covered. Virtually, as   Murphy, Wexler, and Davies (2004) elaborate, this is done by converting raw data into meaningful information within the shortest time possible. Speedy investigations should be the motivation when forming an investigation task force, and the need to halt further attacks, determine motivations behind the attacks, and bring perpetrators to justice.

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of an investigative task force?

The advantages of an investigative task force are immense. First, the approach is critical in enhancing the capabilities of understaffed agencies through teaming up. Ideally, the different agencies that team up help in complementing each other and speed up an investigation that especially cut across multiple jurisdictions. Second, a multijurisdictional approach is important in enhancing the image of the law enforcement. The public needs to have confidence in law enforcement agencies and a chance to solve a serious case through teaming up is a sure way to enhance this image. When this happens, the public will be convinced of the competency of law enforcement, and feel free and confident to volunteer any information involving the investigation. Third, a multijurisdictional approach helps in the pooling of forensic resources, which will be important in maintaining focus during a crisis. With such focus, it is obvious that investigations will be conducted faster, ensuring important information is obtained. Such information is necessary to stop further attacks and provide more, which can inform the  investigation.

When it comes to the disadvantages of a multi-jurisdictional investigative approach, Rhodes, Dyous, and Chapman (2009) observe that multijurisdictional task forces lack the means to collect performance measures, which are necessary for their justification of program operations. This leads to a compromise in federal and state funding. With limited funding, the operations especially if prolonged become a problem. Conflict due to different methodologies, expectations, and command structures are problems multijurisdictional programs have to contend. Due to the involvement of different authorities, the pace of investigations is likely to reduce thus reducing the speed at which justice is delivered to those who are affected. Slow evidence collection is also likely to open a window for another attack or the escape of the suspects, which further complicates the problem.

  • Who, or what entities, should be involved in the decision to create an investigative task force?

Hess (2016) observe that task forces are critical when it comes to settling multijurisdictional needs in cases that cut across multiple agencies. Consistently, their composition needs to be balanced and reflective of the various agencies and leadership structures present in the areas of jurisdiction. To start with, the political leadership should be involved, which means involving the governors of the two states and the mayors of the affected counties. Investigative arms of the Federal government too should be involved, which includes the FBI, the CIA, and Homeland Security. Police chiefs with jurisdiction in the two states need to be involved too. To ensure that the legal parameters of the case are taken care of, attorneys from the two states need to be involved.

  • Assuming, on balance, that you favor a task force approach, what difficulties do you foresee, and how will each be addressed?

With a taskforce approach, it numerous difficulties are inevitable. To begin with, there is the issue of constituting the task force. Who will be involved and why? To answer this question, the different entities mentioned above should provide assets, because they are conversant or experienced with the specific problem. Each individual entity needs to provide the motivation necessary to remain functional in the task force. The other difficulty would probably result from the commanding and reporting structures of the different members of the task force.  To address this a unified command center that would be led by the police chief of where the attacks started would be appropriate. From the command center, reporting would be done to the various agencies that form the task force. The third difficulty is ensuring objectivity even in times of crisis. To solve this difficulty, it is important to ensure that there is appropriate communication of operational procedures and expectations. Timelines and prioritization of issues should be clearly done. The learning curve of the task force remains very steep. This challenge pushes the task force to a corner where mistakes are not tolerated. A mistake in such a case can prove very costly in getting the suspects and proving charges in court. To reduce the probability of making mistakes, task force members should be experienced and decision making should be highly consultative but not at the expense of time.

  • What demands and/or concessions should VPD exercise in order to employ a cooperative task force in this particular case?

VPD should demand that the suspects in the case be prosecuted in the City of Virtual and that all the evidence collected should be processed in their lab where it is possible to do so. This will ensure that the VPD reigns control over the case and it will be made important, and the VPD will be periodically updated about any progress regarding the case.

VPD should make concessions that are consistent with teamwork. This means it should concede that the legal team responsible for prosecuting the suspects will be district attorneys from the counties under attack. Second, VPD should concede that the investigative forensic teams use the facilities at VPD including VPD forensic lab personnel. These two concessions will help in constituting a powerful legal team as well as getting the best from the different agencies to take up the forensics work.

Legal Issues

  1. What legal issues should be considered when embarking on a task force investigative strategy?
  2. Search and seizure laws and limits for each of the jurisdiction where investigations are being conducted
  3. Local and state police and all other agencies involved in jurisdictional laws and established procedures.
  4. Chain of custody
  5. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) since the different agencies involved have different SOPs.
  6. How are each of these issues resolved?

Search and Seizures will be conducted in accordance with the fourth amendment. The local jurisdictional standard operating procedures will be considered to ensure that searches and seizures are done in accordance with the law. Laws place emphasis on issues such as search warrants and where necessary, they will be sought out to ensure that there is no infringing on the rights of individuals and breaking the law.

Local and state agencies need to come to terms with the multijurisdictional scope of work. In this case, all agencies need to be updated concerning the laws and agreements that have been agreed on by the task force. All agencies need to understand and work within the premises of laws in each jurisdiction without confusing the two or allowing them to overlap.

The chain of custody needs to be maintained regarding evidence collection, labeling, storage, and handling. Everybody who has the clearance to handle evidence will be briefed on how to label the case numbers. A temporary single location, preferably at the VPD laboratory will be established as the evidence collection and storage point.

With all the involved agencies, there should be an inter-jurisdictional agreement developed to guide the interaction of the different participating agencies and any other agency that might be enjoined in the case in later stages. The agreement should explicitly explain all the prohibited practices and other aspects such as pursuits. In this regard, the SOPs created in the form of agreements should be declared to the different leaders of the different agencies involved.

Forensic Evidence Collection and Analysis

  1. Without regard to individual items of forensic evidence, describe the steps necessary to ensure that items, materials, and samples are eligible as forensic evidence in a criminal proceeding.

The very first step in this process is to ensure that crime scenes are identified and secured until they are handed over to the lead investigator who will make further decisions regarding what will happen to the crime scene. Every personnel who is interested in accessing the crime scene should be documented and with a clear reason for their interest. The crime scene itself should be documented using digital and manual methods, which include video recording, photography, and sketching. Such records should be documented effectively to ensure that there is no issue of mix up from other scenes or cases. With the arrival of the lead investigator, plans on how to conduct evidence collection can be devised. The plan should involve a methodology and a log for evidence collection. The log should have a clear explanation as to where a given piece of evidence was collected (scene and location), the date of collection, and the person who collected it.

Once the evidence is collected and recorded in the log, it should be carefully transported to the central location for evidence processing (care should be taken to avoid alteration of physical or chemical properties of evidence). To ensure this, it is important to consider appropriate packaging and security during transportation. In the evidence storage room, there should be prioritization of how to process the evidence. The criteria to be used should consider organic evidence that might change with time, evidence that is affected by weather, and that which has time limits. The evidence should be labeled appropriately to ensure that there is a chain of custody. To ensure that there is a significant compatibility; control and reference samples should be obtained from the scene. Any evidence collected should be double-checked to ensure that it is correctly labeled and the contents properly packaged to avoid cross-examination. Handling should be limited and within the storage facility, security provided. 

  • Why?

The above sequencing of evidence collection is informed by the need to ensure evidence is free from contamination, damage, alteration, or tampering. This means, there will be evidence that will provide concrete pointers and information that has sufficient integrity. The integrity of information generated by investigations is necessary in ensuring that there is evidence that can be presented in court and help in winning the case. If the right procedures are not followed, there is a significant potential for the case to get a significant blow to the case since the court is likely to reject such evidence hence the need for heightened surveillance during evidence gathering and processing. In addition, the evidence should be processed in such a way that it can give important pointers on what the suspects might be planning to do and where they can be among other details that can be crucial in stopping the next attack.

  • In what ways do the evidence collection procedures differ at the scenes of the explosions versus the residences of each of the suspects?

Evidence collection at the scene of the explosion should be different from that at the suspects’ houses. To begin with, the rules that cover both places are different. At the site of the explosion, there is no need for a search warrant but at the suspects’ houses, there is the need for a search warrant. The second aspect is safety. Due caution is necessary especially at the scene of explosion since there can be secondary explosives which can be deliberate or those that did not explode. Further, structures near the explosion scene might not be stable enough and might collapse during investigations. Due to these hazards at the scene of the explosion, it would be advisable to use structural engineers’ advice as well as the advice of explosive experts before and during evidence collection. An assessment of the need for specialized equipment and personnel should be conducted to ensure that they are availed at the site of the explosion. The level of safety at the suspects’ house might not warrant use of specialized equipment and personnel.

Testimonial Evidence

  1. Describe the steps necessary to ensure that verbal or written communications from each of the suspects are eligible as testimonial evidence in a criminal proceeding.

To ensure that verbal or written communications from each of the suspects are eligible as testimonial evidence in a criminal proceeding, some concise and clear steps need to be undertaken. To begin with, when a suspect volunteers to provide any information through verbal means, such information should be documented, either electronically or in writing. To clear any doubt, it is important to document the date and time, circumstances leading to the statement, and the location of recording the information. The precise information should be recorded as it was said without any alteration. Right from the onset of the investigation, the suspect should be made aware of his/her rights and ensure that they affirm their understanding, and the affirmation recorded. If the suspect accepts to relinquish his rights to an attorney and proceeds to make a statement in an attorney’s absence, the investigator should record this and proceed to collect the information. Importantly noted, a suspect is always at liberty to invoke his right. If this happens, the information collecting exercise should stop with immediate effect (Hodgson, 2015).

If the suspect is a minor, the law, as explained by Fansher and del Carmen (2016), requires that the individual should be given the right to have their guardian or any other legal representative present during the arrest, detention or even when they are being taken into custody.

  1. Describe the direct and indirect consequences if the testimonial evidence is deemed inadmissible by the trial court.

The direct consequence of testimonial evidence that has been deemed inadmissible by the trial court is that any testimony that is a result of an interview or information gathering expedition is fruitless. The court will thus suspend all the information that was gathered in the process. Any other charges can proceed as long as they are not using evidence gathered using the disqualified method above. 

Indirectly, the case can be dismissed due to its failure to meet legal thresholds and also not prove beyond reasonable doubt to the court that the suspects can be held accountable using evidence gathered using the right ways. Under the Fifth Amendment, one suspect cannot be placed for prosecution twice for the same crime. In such a case, poor evidence might lead to letting the suspects walk free and rendering the whole process inconsequential. 

  • Public Information

As the investigation proceeds, in general terms, what information is or is not available to

  1. non-VPD members of the task force?

Members of the task force need to be furnished with information sufficient to keep them working on their tasks efficiently. For instance, description of suspects, vehicles, and locations is necessary. Any other information that might lead to the leaking of information before the suspects are tried should be kept away from Non-VPD members.

  1. Other law enforcement agencies?

Other enforcement agencies need to be furnished with information that is only necessary for apprehending suspects. Such information includes the description of vehicles, suspects and the last known locations of suspects and vehicles. Other specific details are not necessary for other law enforcers.

  1. Family members of the deceased and injured victims?

At times as these, family members might be anxious and angry. They need information about the progress of identification of their missing or injured kin. They also need to be assured that everything possible is being done to ensure that suspects are being pursued from all possible angles. Specifics about the case should not be handed to the families. The families can also be given a reference point through which they can confirm any updates regarding their loved ones.

  1. Credentialed news reporters?

New reporters can be instrumental in informing the public about the suspects and the vehicles that might be used by suspects to escape. In this case, information describing the suspects, vehicles, and last known location should be given to reporters. To ensure that such information if available is sent back to the authorities, a hotline number should be availed to news reporters for transmission to the members of the public. News reporters should not be given information that reveals the specifics of the case or any information that can cause panic or speculation among the members of the public.

  • Community members?

Community members should be given the same information news reporters have been given. In addition, the community should be urged to maintain vigilance and report all suspicious activities and individuals to the police.

  • Who should be the point of contact for investigative information, and how should that designation be decided?

To ensure that investigative information is properly managed, the district attorney and the leader of the task force should take it upon themselves to designate the point of contact for such information. A senior member of any of the involved agencies should be selected to hold such a position.


This paper has provided insights on what should be done and what should not be done in an investigative series involving a multijurisdictional task force. The paper has assessed the situations demanding the use of a task force, legal issues that surround a taskforce, the pros and cons of a task force, evidence collection and analysis, testimonial evidence, and dissemination of information to different facets of the public that might be interested in the case. In following the guidance of this model, it has emerged that some simple but otherwise critical points of information and knowledge exist and have the potential to jeopardize the success of the case.


Fansher, A., & del Carmen, R. V. (2016). Child as Witness: Evaluating State Statutes on the Court’s Most Vulnerable Population, The. Child. Legal Rts. J., 36, 1.

Hess, K. M., Orthmann, C. H., & Cho, H. L. (2016). Criminal investigation. Cengage Learning.

Hodgson, J. (2015). The role of lawyers during police detention and questioning: a comparative study. Contemp. Readings L. & Soc. Just., 7, 7.

Murphy, G. R., Wexler, C., Davies, H. J., &Plotkin, M. R. (2004, October). Managing a multijurisdictional case: Identifying the lessons learned from the sniper investigation. Washington, DC: Police Executive Research Forum.

Rhodes, W., Dyous, C., Chapman, M., Shively, M., Hunt, D., Wheeler, K., … & United States of America. (2009). Evaluation of the multijurisdictional task forces (MJTFs), Phase II: MJTF performance monitoring guide. Retrieved June, 15, 2018.

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