Concluding a Theft Investigation with a Final Statement

A well-crafted statement freezes the moment of the admission or confession in a theft investigation.

theft investigation, interviewer performance

One of the most common complaints we hear from senior loss prevention executives is the lack of a quality final statement detailing admissions the employee made during the interview. Since the final statement is representative of the admissions and confessions made during the theft investigation, it is essential that this skill is developed as part of our interview and interrogation techniques, and that it be as detailed as possible, containing the elements of the crime or policy violation, and clearly substantiating the associate’s admissions.

Find out where the real threat to your company lies by reading this FREE Special Report, Employee Theft: Statistics, Interviewing Techniques and Tips to Optimize your Employee Theft Policy.

Depending on the organization’s preferences, the final statement could take a number of different forms.

Narrative. The narrative statement is generally a handwritten document prepared by the employee detailing his or her admissions. The narrative statement is often called a “letter of explanation” and has the form and appearance of a letter.

Question and Answer. The question-answer statement contains the question asked by the interviewer followed by the employee’s answer to the question. This type of statement takes longer to prepare since the question must be typed or handwritten prior to inserting the employee’s response.

Preprinted Fill-in-the-Blank. This type of final statement is an attempt by organizations to standardize the appearance and content of the employees’ admissions. These types of documents typically have a number of preprinted paragraphs and sentences containing spaces for the employee to fill in his admissions of theft or dishonesty. Often these types of statements also have a location for the employee to add a short narrative expressing regret for his oer her actions.

Investigator-Written Statement. The interviewer or investigator uses the employee’s admissions or explanations to write a statement detailing them that the employee signs upon completion. Generally, this format is similar to the narrative except that it is prepared by the interviewer rather than written by the employee. This statement is often used in situations where the employee cannot write or is reluctant to write a statement on his own.

Audio/Video Statement. With the advent of digital recorders and the proliferation of loss prevention interviews via telephone, some organizations use an audio recording of the employee’s statement. This is generally done at the conclusion of the interview where the associate reiterates his admission and substantiates it orally for recording on an audio device. This recording is then either transcribed or simply stored in a case management program as part of the file.

Regardless of which form of the statement a company chooses to use, its content and format should remain consistent in each of the above types of documented statements.

Organizing the Statement

As part of effective interview techniques, the preparation for a well-organized statement begins as the interviewer plans for the interview. The interviewer should determine what proofs will be necessary to establish the criminal act or policy violation. In a theft investigation, the elements of the crime are the intent to permanently deprive the company of its asset and to establish that the asset was owned by the organization. Generally, using the word “steal” establishes the intent to permanently deprive the owner of his property by its very definition.

The interviewer should also consider the personal needs of a decision maker when thinking about the content of the statement. If, for example, human resources wants to be certain that the individual knew that it was wrong to steal, then this should also be included in the statement to satisfy their needs. A simple statement such as, “I knew that it was wrong to steal from the company and also a violation of the law.” This statement is generally sufficient to satisfy anyone that the employee knew his actions were inappropriate.

Once the development of the admission has been completed, the interviewer should have their own notes detailing the admissions of the employee. These notes can be used in two ways. First, the interviewer may use the notes as another form of documentation by having the employee initial the various admissions attesting to their correctness. The interviewer’s notes are then signed by the employee and dated. These notes become part of the investigative case file to support the final statement. The notes are also used by the interviewer to help format the final statement, making sure that all the details and admissions made by the employee are included in the final statement.

In most cases, the employee’s statement is organized in the following manner:

  • The document is dated with the current date when it was prepared. Often, the time it began and was completed is included.
  • The first paragraph in the document is used to identify the individual and establish their biographical information. At a minimum, this should include their name, position and tenure within the organization, plus the location of assignment. This establishes their role as an employee and the venue of the incident if a criminal complaint is going to be contemplated. Some organizations include other biographical information, such as the associate’s address or employee identification number.
  • The document’s second paragraph is a summary of the admission made by the employee during the interview portion of the theft investigation. This summary is not a substantiated or detailed admission, but rather an overview of what is to come. For example, the associate might write, “I stole $300 in merchandise and $200 in money from [insert company name] store 5295.”
  • In subsequent paragraphs, the employee substantiates each of the previous paragraph’s broad admissions. For example, if the employee had admitted stealing $100 in cash from his terminal and another $100 using fraudulent refunds, there would be two paragraphs covering these theft admissions. This would then be followed by the substantiation of the $300 in merchandise with as many details as possible relating to the method of the theft, plus the types and quantities of merchandise stolen.
  • There may be other paragraphs that link documents or evidence to the statement. If the associate had identified refunds he used to steal, it would be useful to have him initial those documents and date them. In this paragraph, he would then note that he had identified the fraudulent documents initialing and dating those he identified as using to steal from the organization.
  • There may be another paragraph relating to diagrams prepared by the employee to show how he concealed merchandise or removed merchandise from the facility.
  • Following the paragraph substantiating the admission, the employee is encouraged to write his reason for participating in the incidents and to express his regret for his actions if he wishes. Often the employee may choose to write his reasons for becoming involved and detail the personal issues contributing to his dishonesty.
  • This section of the statement establishes its voluntariness. The employee is asked whether the statements he made are true and whether any threats or promises were made to obtain them. His answer to that question is incorporated in this portion of the statement.
  • The employee, interviewer, and witness sign and number each page to include the date and time of the statement’s completion.
  • The employee initials any scratch outs or changes he has made on each of the pages.

Additional Elements

Regardless of the type of statement chosen by an organization, the format and ultimate content of the final statement can be the same. However, there may be instances where the associate is unclear in his writing. In these situations, the interviewer may find it useful to write five or six specific questions that clearly establish the elements of the crime or policy violation and then ask the associate to write his answers after each question.

The interviewer may also find it useful to take a statement from the witness who sat in on the interview. The witness is asked to write a detailed summary of what occurred during the interview, including a description of the interviewer’s and employee’s demeanor. The witness can also initial and sign the interviewer’s notes, just as the employee did to attest to their accuracy and completeness. This additional statement will serve to document what went on during the interview and act as a source of review for the witness should he be required to testify.

Find out where the real threat to your company lies by reading this FREE Special Report, Employee Theft: Statistics, Interviewing Techniques and Tips to Optimize your Employee Theft Policy.

A Moment Frozen in Time

A well-crafted statement freezes the moment of the admission or confession, providing the reader a snapshot into the mind of the guilty party. We should not be surprised that someone might change his story when the reality of the consequences of his actions finally hits home. The statement stands as a moment frozen in time, illustrating the voluntariness with the details substantiating the admission.

In terms of the structure of our interview and interrogation techniques, the statement is the final component of the development of the admission, reducing the confession to a permanent form. Many times, the interviewer will have made contemporaneous notes of the subject’s admissions and the details surrounding them. These notes can be transcribed into the written report and then destroyed, they can be maintained as part of the case file, or they can be part of the evidence against the subject.

If there is any question about whether the associate will write a statement or maintain continued cooperation, the investigator should bring another witness into the room to recap the subject’s confession. The investigator goes through the admission, giving the subject time to expand on the topic before moving on to the rest of his statements in the presences of the witness. It is useful to have the subject talk about how he was treated and the voluntariness of his admissions before moving on to the written statement.

Verifying the Theft Investigation Notes

It is sometimes useful to have the subject initial the investigator’s notes, certifying to their correctness as an intermediate step before obtaining a written or recorded statement. These notes become part of the evidence supporting the written statement.

The investigator might suggest, “Here let’s take a look at my notes to make sure they are correct. Now you said…Does that seem right to you? Okay, then if you could just put your initials right there to indicate it is correct. Great, now here you said…”

The investigator leads the employee through the notes, asking him if the notations are an accurate reflection of what he said. If the employee agrees the notes are accurate, he is asked to put his initials next to each admission and then to finally sign and date the document. This intermediate step gets a pen into the subject’s hand and helps ease the transition to the written statement, using date, initials, and the subject’s signature.

A Letter of Explanation

When presenting the idea of writing a written statement, it is useful to reframe the statement as a letter of explanation. This terminology seems less formal than calling the document a “statement,” yet it is an accurate reflection of the content. The letter of explanation can be introduced in the following way.

Interviewer: “Okay, let me ask you this: Are you sorry about what happened?”

Subject: “Yes.”

Interviewer: “Great. Then I think you should have an opportunity to say you are sorry and make an explanation for what happened and why. I am sure you would be willing to do that, right?”

Subject: “Yeah.”

Interviewer: “Okay, here is a pad and pen. Today’s date is August 12.”

The subject now has a pen and paper and writes the date at the top of the page. In the event he does not write the date, the interviewer can point to the top of the page and suggest the date be placed there. The interviewer is not dictating the statement, but is helping to format the topic and admissions. In effect, the completed statement looks like a narrative without the questions posed by the investigator. If the interviewer proposes to use a question-and-answer statement, then the questions are listed prior to the subject’s responses.

The Body of the Statement

The body of the statement is critical since it establishes the elements of the crime or policy violation and substantiates the subject’s confession. Generally, this portion of the statement begins with the total admission, such as “I stole $500 in cash and $850 in merchandise from Acme store 6526 during the last six months.” Including the word “stole” in the sentence provides the element of the crime of theft—the person took money and merchandise without permission and intending to permanently deprive the owner of its asset. However, this statement alone does not tell the full story of how the employee arrived at these amounts.

The next section of the statement addresses the calculations leading to the preceding admission and how they were determined. If part of the cash theft involved the use of fraudulent refunds, these can be identified and initialed by the employee; then the appropriate details from them are included into the statement. One might include the refund’s date, identifying number, and dollar value.

If the theft also included money taken directly from a terminal, the subject might be asked to identify the amount he stole using an over/short report. The employee can initial those amounts on the report that he stole. He then dates and signs the report, which will become part of the evidence supporting the written statement and admission.

If the money was used for a particular purpose, this could be included in this section or detailed later in the statement. The more details about what the money was used for, the more likely it could be substantiated if necessary at a later date to further support the truthfulness of the document. For example, if the employee’s vehicle had been repossessed, it might be useful to know the bank, number of missed payments, and date of repossession. This is information known only to the employee, which increases the believability of the statement and that it was actually made by the employee.

When the merchandise is detailed, there should be as much information as possible included to identify the item. This might include SKU, price, color, and any other identifying features. If there are inventory documents showing missing items, the employee could identify the items he stole, initialing them, and dating and signing the document. The way in which the employee stole the items can also be documented and, if appropriate, a diagram could be produced to illustrate how the items were concealed and removed from the store. The diagram should be signed and dated by the employee, like all the other supporting materials mentioned in the statement, as supplemental evidence in the case.

Should the dishonest employee offer explanations for case evidence, this can also be included in the statement as well. If the explanation is a fabrication, it should be included since this will speak to the credibility of the individual if it can be disproved.

The employee can add explanations regarding why he was dishonest and his regret for doing so. He may comment that the statement is the truth and was given of his own free will without any threats or promises being made to him. Finally, the statement is signed on each page and dated by the subject after initialing any scratch outs. The interviewer and witness also sign and date each page as well.

Outside Witness

Next, an outside witness can be introduced to hear the employee’s verbal admissions and review the written statement. It is useful to brief the witness in advance regarding what the employee admitted and help them with several questions to ask the associate during the recap. The interviewer can recap the associate’s admission when he returns to the room with the witness. Speaking to the witness, he reviews the confession, allowing the witness to ask the prearranged questions and hear the associate’s responses. The interviewer may also ask questions about the associate’s treatment and truthfulness during the interview.

If appropriate, the interviewer may want to obtain additional statements from the witnesses about the interview process, employee’s admissions, and his treatment during the interview.

Effectively, there are now three witnesses to the associate’s confession, plus a detailed substantiated statement to support a termination or prosecution. The final statement freezes the moment in time for a detailed examination of the employee’s attitude, truthfulness, and voluntariness of his admissions during the interview. The statement is like a period at the end of a sentence—without a period, the sentence is incomplete. Without a good, complete final statement, the theft investigation is incomplete.

This article was first published in 2014 and updated June 8, 2017.

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