Let me ask you this: 'Do detectives really pin pictures on a board when investigating a crime?'

 

When I was a cop, which mostly pre-dated the computer technology we take for granted today, a major investigation might include the creation of a link chart on a bulletin board, showing people, locations, cars, etc, some connected by lengths of string or yarn. Really creative people would use different colours of yarn to show different types of links. I saw announcements from organisations that taught week-long workshops in the creation and maintenance of these charts.

One of the problems in creating one of these charts was that they took up a lot of room. Our detective bureau of maybe 25 officers had a single large bulletin board where such a chart could be posted, and there were often several major cases (plus numerous minor or routine cases) working at one time. The chart had to be covered most of the time, as a suspect or a friend of a suspect might see it and get a leg up on the investigation. All told, they weren't very practical.

The big displays you see on TV programs like Law and Order: SVU reinforce the myth that detectives work on a single case at a time. In shows like these, usually the entire squad is devoted to investigating a single incident or group of incidents. The wall display is a device to move the story along and reinforce the relationship of the players. You're reminded of who the suspects and victims are, what sort of things they did, etc. I quietly marvel at how the detectives have managed to obtain great, well-exposed, high-resolution photos of all the players. Photos like that might be possible to obtain, given enough time and effort, but many of them would be from driver's license files and photocopies of old mug shots, and would vary a lot in quality.

Cops do still use link charts, but they're more helpful in complex, longitudinal investigations where there might be hundreds of people, places, phone numbers, IP addresses, etc. involved. There is now software for managing this kind of information. While you might find one of the simpler board displays in a detective office, it's far more likely this sort of thing will be kept on a computer.

Tim Dees, retired police officer

It's one way of keeping people and evidence (or multiple cases) linked. Some of our detectives operate better with visual connections available. Others work better with lists and spreadsheets. It all just depends on how the detective processes the information best.

Christopher Hawk, 20-year police patrol veteran

These answers all come from quora.com, the popular online Q&A service. Ask any question and get real answers from people in the know

 

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine