The truth hurts. But the other option is worse.
In 2013, I wrote a book and throughout the book, wrote of telling the truth as it relates to your investigations. One area of telling the truth that I should have covered more, was ensuring that your team also tells the truth.
The only statement in this book that skims this advice is that of not letting someone else make mistakes IF YOU KNOW of the mistakes being made or will be made.
Placing the Suspect Behind the Keyboard, 2013
I have felt this pain before and was fortunate that no one was killed the one time that I didn’t act. I’ll give the story at the end of this post of how this lesson was scarred into my brain.
In a previous chat session, I gave a few personal examples of “inaccurate/conflicting” testimony in two separate trials. I’ll be talking details about these two cases more in another chat or webinar. Both instances miffed me quite a bit because I don’t like seeing untruthfulness in what absolute truth should be, especially in a courtroom, under oath.
I might also talk about two clients strongly pushing me to embellish forensic analysis findings and how I fired them instead.
Inaction and errors
For me, taking action to prevent mistakes has been ingrained in all of my professional careers. In most jobs that I’ve had, the accomplishment of any task was usually a planned team effort. From military to law enforcement to collecting evidence in the private sector, there has been multiple planning steps prior to taking any action.
In any of these planning steps or stages, every involved person has the ability, if not the outright obligation, to call out errors and potential errors in the plan. By the time action is taken, most of the known issues are settled which allows for the unknowns being more effectively handled in real-time. Plan for the worst, hope for the best, and handle everything else in between as it pops up.
One aspect is tactical planning. Be tactically sound in what you are going to do. I don’t mean “tactical” as wearing battle gear, but rather being methodical and engaged in your actions to mitigate risk.
Another aspect is honesty. Anything that we touch, seize, write, say, hear, or see in the DFIR world has a potential, no matter how slight, of being offered and accepted into a legal case. If you had any part of the operation, you are potentially a key witness in some aspect of it for good or bad.
The truth can hurt. The truth can be embarrassing. The truth can be career ending. But no matter how difficult the truth may be, a lie or embellishment is 10x that, even if you had no part in other than watch it unfold without saying a thing.
Your input (or lack thereof) in planning, your reporting, your witnessing or others' actions and reporting, and the willful inaction of those involved must be looked through these lenses.
When you don’t speak up to prevent a problem, you are part of the problem
Here is one incident where someone could have been killed and I would have been part of the cause. I reflect on this one day as a constant reminder.
While assigned as a Task Force Officer, a fellow detective asked for my opinion on the plan of a drug operation takedown. The operation was for my fellow detective to assume an undercover role, meet a drug trafficker, and subsequently end in a takedown of the drug trafficker. Simple and common operation. I have participated in every aspect of this type of operation in more operations that I can remember. But....
After he gave the basics of the op plan, the first thing that I said to him was, “You are going to be robbed.” He agreed, which is why he asked for another opinion. He then invites me into the briefing for this operation that consisted of maybe 5 or more police agencies, including an administrator overseeing the operation.
They go over the plan again for my benefit and I said bluntly said, “You guys are going to get robbed.” From there, it didn’t go well for me. Every person in the room was for the plan, and I started to give my reasons of why their plan sucked. My verbal skills have improved, but I believe my exact words were something like, "You plan sucks and you are going to get robbed 100%."
I won’t go into the reason that I felt this way, other to say that in the world of takedown operations (buy busts and the such), there are a few rules that must never be broken. I won’t say any of those rules publicly either, but if you have done this type of work, you know them already. In this operation, they already broke two of the rules and were going to break a third.
I gave my suggestion of preventing a robbery. My suggestion was ignored, and this group of experienced detectives decided to go forth specifically against my advice. I didn’t push it. This is where I should have strongly demanded action. But I let it go forward.
Since I was too chicken to stand up in front of a bunch of police agencies that were putting my officer at risk from my own agency, I asked, “Who is on the officer rescue team?”
The answer was condescending with a “We don’t need a rescue team for this.”
This was another opportunity for me to argue against the op. But again, I did not. This was my inaction again, where I knew the risk was unreasonable to go forward, but I didn’t push it.
At the time, I was tasked for support of another operation for a different agency, but since I was not a pivotal part of that operation, I was able to withdraw and I offered to be this detective’s rescue “team”. They let me drive a family van as the “rescue team” to keep me quiet.
The result of the operation was that multiple suspects in a car pulled up, pulled out guns, and attempted to rob the undercover. The rescue team is usually within rescue distance, so with this chaos, here comes the family rescue van “team”, rushing in, and ramming the suspect’s car while the rest of this highly trained task force made it through a crowded mall parking lot to clean up. No one was killed. No one was shot. Suspects were arrested.
This could have been much worse, including for me.
Had I pushed in the planning process more, there would have been 90% less risk or 100% no risk by canceling the op. For that, I cringe every time I think about what could have happened had not the rescue “team” not been there to chase armed suspects pulling out guns on an undercover officer in the middle of a shopping mall parking lot.
That was not a unique situation unfortunately, but every time after that, I was not a quiet mouse in the room when I was the only person seeing red flags or the only person saying something.
Honor and integrity
For the Marines reading this, you will get it. Everyone else….well, this kind of integrity reinforcement is constant in boot camp.
On one day in Marine Boot Camp, myself and two other Marine recruits were standing in the quarterdeck talking. I was “firewatch” while my platoon was being given physical activity by drill instructors. Two Marine recruits, also on firewatch in adjacent squad bays came into my squad bay, and we were only talking and laughing.
One of the DIs from my platoon stormed in like a hurricane, saw us laughing, and in a manner that only a Marine DI could ask, “Are all of you having a party?”
Two of us said that we were not having a party. I confessed and said that we were having a party. I am using the word ‘party’ in a professional manner. There were other words used.
Anyway, that DI spent an entire training session teaching those two recruits the value of integrity and the consequences of dishonesty. I was advised to go back to doing my duty. But, I learned that integrity will save you, because it is all that we have. I believe the other two recruits learned the same lesson, but lost a lot of water weight learning.
Courts get this. People get this. I get this.
Because of that, when you see or hear something that is not right, that you are part of, that you know is going to cause harm to someone, speak out and prevent damage from happening or getting worse.
Sometimes people can get killed. Sometimes people can lose their careers. In this DFIR field of ours, you never have a worry if you are always truthful and candid in all that you do.
There is a saying of "Tell it to the Marines." You may have heard of this but not know what it means. It simply means that if a Marine said it, it must be true, because they have seen everything.
Use that example to build your reputation, that clients, courts, employers, employees, friends, and family will be able to say about you, "That if s/he said it, then it must be true."
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