Blue Line


January 3, 2013  By Tim Trotter

987 words – MR

Compelling agendas

Key strategies for a successful joint forces operation

by Tim Trotter

When a criminal investigation takes on a multi-jurisdictional or multi-agency scope, the Joint Forces Operation (JFO), Joint Task Force (JTF) or “working group” often ends up as merely a catchy name, perhaps a slick logo – and not much else. Although a partial resolution is sometimes achieved, the group often dissolves into competing agendas, uncertain partnerships and counterproductive investigations.

Institutional inertia and organizational culture are two key barriers to a successful investigation in a situation that demands a multi-agency response.

Institutional inertia occurs in organizations unable to respond quickly and efficiently to outside requests and challenges. These are often public sector agencies where layers of bureaucracy must be negotiated before external requests for information can be satisfied. This inertia problem is not limited to the public sector, but private enterprises driven by the profit imperative are often more responsive to outside demands or challenges. Money can be made or lost very quickly and private companies are responsible to their shareholders. In addition, private firms are often more conscious of their public image and more active in maintaining brand integrity and corporate image.

The second key barrier, organizational culture, can be loosely defined as the pervading ethic defining a public or private organization’s approach and response in all facets of its operations. Organizational culture pressures members of all agencies and organizations to conduct their work in a manner reflecting their perception of the chief concerns of their managers. This invisible filter often results in actions or decisions that seem incomprehensible or even hostile to the investigator, whose expectations of cooperation are based on his or her own organizational culture.

The friction created by institutional inertia and organizational culture can derail even the most well-intentioned joint investigative effort.

What can the organizer of a multi-jurisdictional operation do when faced with these two profound barriers to a successful joint operation?

One strategy used successfully in the Project Mouse investigation, which involved more than 30 separate agencies, is an approach that a retail salesperson might recognize as a basic sales technique. It can be adapted to a multi-agency investigation using the following four-step model.

1) Define the criminal concern and identify stakeholders – those organizations, public and private, whose operations have been, or could be, affected by the criminal activity being investigated. Once stakeholders are identified, it should be possible to answer the following questions, with these stakeholders in mind:

  1. Does the criminal activity cross jurisdictional lines?

  2. Does the activity affect communities served by different police services?

  3. What public sector agencies are affected by this activity?

  4. What private sector organizations or companies are affected or suffer because of this activity?

  5. Are any of the individuals involved in the criminal activity associated with private companies? If so, are they using their employee (company) identities as part of the criminal behaviour?

  6. What are the “tools of the criminal trade?” Are they related to private or public agencies and does their use have an impact on the public credibility of those tools?

2) Solicit representation from the identified stakeholders, using available resources such as past contacts, professional or personal relations, established partnerships and industry groups. The key is to get someone – anyone – from each agency or stakeholder group to that first meeting to ensure contact has been made and critical information exchanged.

3) Organize a group meeting of all of the representatives and sell them on your project. This step contains the real art of the deal. Advance meeting preparation and knowledge of the priorities of each stakeholder organization are essential. In sales parlance this stage of the process is known as “overcoming objections.” Each representative needs to be shown exactly how the criminal activity under investigation impacts their group’s interests. They must realize that their organization has a stake in the successful completion of your joint investigation. Arguments should be tailored to the entities’ concerns:

  1. Use constructive persuasion, such as: “Your company stands to lose money,” “Your agency will benefit from being seen as participating” or “Your product is being misused to commit this crime.”

  2. Do not rely on threats or intimidation: “When this hits the media” will not make anyone a happy contributor and may result in half-hearted or divisive participation.

4) Once you have an interested and committed group, secure firm commitments from individual participants. This does not need to be done on paper. By considering the unique outlook of each participant and asking each for what they are comfortable in providing may guarantee a more positive and energetic response. In sales this is referred to as “sealing the deal.” This is a very important step for two reasons: securing commitment and identifying fair weather friends – those who are glad to have their agency’s logo on your project but intend to provide very little in the way of action.

At this crucial stage you might hear some familiar refrains; “We’ll put it past legal” or “We’ll need an MLAT or MOU,” for example. Let these people drift quietly out of the picture – if you have done your sales job correctly you have asked them to do nothing that their organization doesn’t already do based on their own internal procedures.

By following these key steps, you can assure that your joint investigation will enjoy a smoother flow of information, more responsive actions from stakeholders and deeper commitment. The end result will ultimately be more rewarding for all.

We used this approach during Project Mouse to ensure commitment and participation from representatives of more than 30 private and public agencies in an investigation that ultimately lasted almost a year.


Timothy Trotter and Michael Kelly will explore the dangerous and shadowy world of synthetic identities and multi-jurisdictional, multi-agency task forces at Blue Line EXPO. Their course, “Economic Crimes: Detection and Investigation – Project Mouse and Project Kite” is sponsored by Vancouver Island University.

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