Getting a clue on what investigators do

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Donald C. Knechtel
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of four articles on the Security Forces Squadron mission here at Ellsworth.

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. – A worn trench coat and faded fedora – an ensemble worn by memorable detectives like Dick Tracey, Columbo and Inspector Gadget. These gumshoes search the streets and back alleys for the truth and hard evidence that would put a perp behind bars or spare an innocent life from prison. Popular culture has always put a lime light on characters such as these.

As in fiction, real-life investigators help bring justice back to the streets. This rings true for military investigators as well – even if the outfit has changed since the 1980’s.

“We are the focal point for intelligence in the unit,” said Investigator Evan Farmer, the non-commissioned officer in charge of investigations assigned to the 28th Security Forces Squadron. “We investigate things of a criminal nature that could not be handled by the typical law enforcement police response.”

Robert O’Brien, a detective assigned to the 28th SFS, said in certain events and cases, patrolmen will need assistance finding answers. If it’s a case that looks like it will take a little more time and depth, that’s when investigators will take it.

“We typically deal with one or two types of things: crimes against people and crimes against the government,” Farmer said.

In order to provide answers, the investigator must dive deep into the details of the case.

“It’s good to have a section of security forces that can take the time to work a case in depth after the first response is over,” O’Brien said. “It’s important to take a deeper look, reach out to the victims more, and do some follow up. That is usually the primary focus of what we are used for.”

Once a patrol identifies a situation needing the skill set of an investigator, they brief the squadron commander who in turn gives the green light to open an official investigation. Investigators are then tasked with a case, using their skills to find out what happened, conducting interviews, assessing if there are victims that need care, and possibly conducting additional procedures. Upon completion of the investigation, the final report will be sent to legal.

“We are fact finders, and at the end of the day, we are not here to throw people in jail or label people with guilt” O’Brien said. “We are here to find out the truth and facts of the case.”

With the vast responsibility they have, these real-life gumshoes must be dedicated.

“From a young age I always wanted to serve in the military and eventually have a career in law enforcement,” Farmer said. “Security forces was well suited for that. I was given a lot of opportunities to do a lot of things, top of which being investigations. It lets me focus on new aspects of law enforcement I would otherwise not be able to do.”

O’Brien says his passion for the job comes from helping people, and it is the most rewarding part. He has worked many cases and seen multiple victims who have thanked him for refusing to give up on a case. He further explained the main focus of his job is not to find people guilty, though some found guilty have benefited from his dedication.

“There was a case where a suspect was addicted to meth, so we investigated his case, solved it, and he was found guilty,” O’Brien said. “While in confinement he was able to get off the drugs and he got his health back; he thanked me for it.”

O’Brien said the suspect knew once he got out, he would have a much better relationship with his family, and needed that one person to get him back on track. At the end of the day, the investigators were trying to help him.

Though their intentions may be good, investigators and patrolmen struggle with breaking the stigma of negativity affecting law enforcement.

“Not everyone we look into has done something wrong,” Farmer stated. “Sometimes people are referred over to us and we are able to point out they had done nothing wrong and they need to clear the person and restore that normalcy to them.”

This is the goal of investigators everywhere, to provide expert skills to find the truth, whether to prove someone innocent or guilty. Though negativity can cloud the air around investigators, they continue to do what they believe is right.

“We may be a military law enforcement organization, but we still abide by the same beliefs that all law enforcement do: to protect and serve,” O’Brien said. “That’s what we are here for, that’s our priority.”