Overcoming Bias in Private Investigations
- December 01, 2020
- by Stephanie Irvine
Whether the subject matter of a private investigation case is too personal or something else colors perspective, succumbing to bias is something that all private investigators have faced at some time or another. After all, private investigators are human and we are all subject to the same propensity toward unconscious (and perhaps even conscious) biases. A bias occurs when someone has a preconceived notion or opinion of someone or something, which can lead to errors in judgment. For investigators to do their job accurately, expertly, and efficiently, it is important for them to recognize their own bias in a case, understand how bias can be harmful to a case, and learn techniques to mitigate or eliminate their bias.
How Bias Can Be Harmful to a Private Investigation
Clients expect that investigators are giving a case their unclouded judgment, their “all.” If an investigator is biased, it can harm the investigation in multiple ways. An investigator could overlook a potential suspect, miss important evidence or facts, or even incorrectly judge witnesses or tipsters who could otherwise provide valuable information. An investigator could also collect the wrong type of evidence or follow a dead-end path that wastes valuable time.
While many seasoned investigators might think that their skillset and intuition has never led them astray before, it is important to perform a self-check to ensure that they are performing investigations without clouded judgment or bias.
How to Recognize Your Own Bias in Investigations
First, investigators should acknowledge that everyone is capable of being biased, including themselves, because it is part of human nature. Everyone has preferences, but bias comes into play when those preferences can influence a person’s behavior and cause an error in judgment. This can be difficult to acknowledge, especially for investigators, because it can be hard to accept such a flaw. However, doing so will make for better investigators and more honest work.
One way in which investigators can check their own bias is to use substitution, according to an article published in the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants Executive Talent magazine. This entails asking questions such as: Would the investigator feel the same way and act the same way if they substituted the person or place with another? Would they feel differently? Using substitution, an investigator can begin to realize situations in which they may be biased and start doing the work to remedy it. Thinking critically about the situation and individuals at hand can help investigators make sound decisions. Another excellent way to avoid bias in investigations is to have trusted colleagues in the field. Getting a second opinion on what action to take or whether or not bias has come into play can be incredibly valuable for investigators.
What Private Investigators Can Do About Bias in Investigations
It is important to take the time to learn about biases. Understanding what bias is can help individuals recognize their own preferences and tendencies to be biased. Investigators can learn more about bias by reading about it. Attorney Amy Oppenheimer is well known for her work in bias. She published a paper on the psychology of bias, which can be read for free online. Investigators can also review the Slideshare slides from a webinar entitled “Eliminating Bias in Investigations” that Oppenheimer conducted. Though lengthy, the slides are informative and walk the viewer through identifying and understanding bias, how bias impacts investigations, and more.
Once an investigator acknowledges that they can have bias without realizing it, they can begin questioning and learning about his or her own biases. The University of California San Francisco offers excellent study material, including videos that can introduce you to the topic of bias. Additionally, investigators or individuals alike can take a brief test developed by three scientists who later formed “Project Implicit,” which is a nonprofit organization. The test is offered online and is hosted by Harvard.edu.
Additionally, investigators can engage in professional development courses that cover this material. While our post is intended to help, a full course may provide more details and information that can be helpful for investigators working to overcome bias. The Association of Certified Fraud Investigators also offers a self-study online program that focuses on bias.
Be Better Investigators
All investigators want to be capable of doing their very best. Identifying, understanding, and challenging one’s own bias is just one way that investigators can work to be better.