What Should I Know About A Written Complaint?

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

Most investigators start their investigation when they receive a written allegation or complaint. These can come in the form of a letter, fax, or someone’s notes from a phone call. But, most commonly, we receive an allegation through a web service or hotline transcript managed by intake.

I see a lot of investigators take this written complaint, read through it, and then have a decent idea about whether the allegation is valid and what the investigative result will likely be. Investigators love solving puzzles, and the more experience they gather, the more confident they are in analyzing the initial complaint.

Some of the questions they will try to answer include the following:

- What is the person’s complaint?

- Does this complaint align with a policy or statute?

- Is there a possible violation?

-Does the complainant have any evidence of their allegation?

- Is there enough information to provide leads that will produce evidence that will show a violation occurred?

Trying to answer these questions after reading a written complaint can wreck an investigation from the onset. Information written in a complaint is way too premature to make any valuable assumptions about the analysis (are assumptions ever really useful?)

If you’ve attended an interview or interrogation course, then you are aware that most communication is non-verbal, communicated by tone, inflection, and body language. Experts estimate between 60 and 90 percent of communication is nonverbal. So, here’s the question: What percentage of a written complaint is nonverbal?

A written complaint is entirely verbal, so anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of the information the complainant has is missing. This incomplete information is why an investigator must interview the complainant as soon as possible once the investigation begins.

While most investigators will interview the complainant early on in the investigation, I have seen several seasoned investigators enter into this initial interview after having already answered the questions mentioned above. As a result, their interview with the complainant is too tight in scope. It often results in the investigator judging whether the interviewee is corroborating their written statement or not. I have seen many valid complaints die prematurely in this stage of the investigation. Do not make this mistake.

We advise that you read the written complaint carefully and write down questions about the informational gaps you see in the complaint. Make these questions detailed yet open-ended. Next, conduct a thorough interview with the complainant, not trying to make sense of your summation of the written allegations, but as if this were the first time you were communicating with them. This attitude will help keep the interview open-ended, and you’ll be more likely to get additional information that can transform the original complaint into an entirely different investigation. Don’t forget to go through the questions you wrote down, even if they start to seem irrelevant.

Once you have completed this interview, you can take the original complaint and the information you gathered from the interview and answer those initial questions that will get you started in the right direction. What is the person actually complaining about, does this align with a policy or statute violation, does the person have evidence, or were they able to produce enough information to formulate additional leads through subsequent interviews and document or evidence gathering.

The lesson here is not to overthink the case too soon.

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