The Canadian Review of Policing Research (2005)

ISSN: 1710 6915


John C. House

John C. House is a sergeant in the Criminal Investigation Division of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. He has experience in the investigation of major cases and has an interest in major case management, police decision-making, and the contribution of psychological research to criminal investigation. He has a Master of Science Degree from the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom, and has recently completed a year-long secondment to the Canadian Police College as recipient of the 2004-05 Research Scholarship. Sergeant House can be contacted at


Major case management is a complex investigative activity because it involves the command of team members in a pressure-filled environment. Within the uncertain investigative environment, case managers must ensure that their responsibilities are carried out efficiently and effectively. For instance, they must ensure that all necessary investigative information is collected; the roles and responsibilities of the investigative team are clearly defined; the resources required for completing tasks are available; ethical investigative standards are upheld; and, that the investigative team can quickly adapt to changing situations. Inability of case managers to carry out the varied responsibilities can result in a failed investigation, such as a wrongful conviction or the exclusion of evidence resulting from overzealous or unethical activity leading to the collapse of the prosecution. It is therefore essential to choose appropriate people to manage major cases.

Despite Canadian police investigators receiving training in major case management that emphasizes the methods crucial to the direction of effective criminal investigations, 2 little is known about what skills are required for effective management of major cases. Commissions of inquiry have been one source of information for police trainers about the factors that have led to investigative errors. After the errors have been identified, police officers can be alerted to the potential dangers and mechanisms for their remedy can be introduced into training courses to avoid such errors in the future.3 For instance, commissions of inquiry have highlighted the need to train officers on the potential for, and the avoidance of, tunnel vision. However, training officers to avoid errors does not ensure that they develop the skills required to be an effective major case manager. In contrast to the error correction method, this article summarizes the results of a study that identified the skills of managers of major cases who have had successful investigations. While this research is not without its limitations,4 the results provide insights into how future major case managers may be identified, how they should be trained, and the skills that they need to be effective major case managers.


Data were collected through face-to-face interviews with 51 Canadian major case managers. The participants were judged “effective” through a peer nomination procedure. The two-hour interviews were divided into four parts. First, major case managers were asked to provide basic personal information. Then, managers were asked to provide a narrative account of one of their effective cases. Third, they were asked a series of questions regarding major case management skills, their strengths and weaknesses as major case managers, and where they thought they had acquired the skills they possessed. Finally, managers were requested to rank a series of previously identified skills in order of importance. Transcribed interviews were analyzed using a typical grounded approach to analyzing data. Analysis of the transcripts identified the actions and skills the case managers appeared to use during their investigations. A multivariate analysis of the transcribed data was conducted to identify any relationships that might exist between the variables. Descriptive statistics were used to analyze the data collected from the other three parts.


Perhaps the most important finding was that the effective major case managers were strong leaders.5 Results of the multivariate analysis of their actions and skills revealed two distinct categories of skills: those that focus team members on the accomplishment of tasks (namely, task-oriented skills) and those that reduce tension and enhance morale (namely, socio-emotional skills). Although this research had no objective measure of effectiveness, research in other fields suggests that the most effective people are those who balance these two categories of leadership skills.6 In the current study, approximately one third of the case managers displayed a balance of task-oriented and socio-emotional behaviour. The majority of the major case managers, however, tended to lean toward task-oriented skills.

Analysis of the other interview data showed that most of the major case managers reported that their strengths related to interpersonal skills, communication, knowledge and experience, while their perceived weaknesses primarily related to organizational skills and their reluctance to delegate tasks. They wanted to be more personally involved with hands-on investigative activities. Of importance was the finding that the majority of major case managers ranked communication and decision-making as being their most important skills, and claimed that managing expert advice and arranging for staff development were the least important skills for a major case manager to possess.

Conclusion and Implications

Case managers in this study appeared to have developed their skills through many years of police experience and major case management training. Police demographics are changing rapidly in Canada.7 As a result, it is anticipated that in the near future major case leadership will be assumed by younger and less experienced police officers. Consequently, future major case managers must become expert by means other than experience. The identification of a set of core skills that make effective major case leaders is an important first step towards achieving this end. Implementing training methods that develop the core skills in course participants is another important step.

In addition to identifying the core skills of effective case managers, the results of the research can assist in the development of a template that measures skill acquisition before and after major case leadership training; which is something that traditional major case management training methods have not yet done. Specifically, this research suggests that the most effective case managers possess leadership skills consistent with the findings of mainstream leadership research. The majority of effective case leaders in Canada appear to incorporate both task-oriented and socio-emotional skills; however, some effective leaders were more balanced than others in their discussion (and potentially in their use) of these skills. The imbalance suggests that traditional training methods may need to be revised to ensure the development of the most effective leadership skills in future major case leaders. More specifically, research indicates that some methods are more effective than others for training people on task-oriented and socio-emotional skills. For instance, task-oriented skills are more cognitive and can be taught in the classroom, whereas the socio-emotional skills may require more experiential and interactive approaches to learning. 8

To summarize, the research suggests that there may be an imbalance in the presence of task and socio-emotional skills in Canadian major case managers. This finding is not surprising given the task orientation of major case management training. Consequently, the take-home-message from this research project is that current and future major case leaders should be trained to incorporate both task-oriented and socio-emotional skills into their repertoire.

End Notes

1. The research was made possible by the Canadian Police College Research Scholarship Program, 2004-05.

2. Refer to the Canadian Police College, Major Case Management Manual or to the Ontario Police College, Major Case Management Manual for an understanding of the procedures of major case management (MCM).

3. Refer to the reports of the commissions of inquiry on the Donald Marshall, Jr. Prosecution; the Bernardo Investigation Review; the Proceedings Involving Guy Paul Morin; and regarding Thomas Sophonow.

4. Simply associating a police officer with a successful case does not automatically mean that the officer was entirely responsible for its success. It can be that there was a poor investigative process but that the case had a good investigative outcome. In such a situation, identifying the skills of the case manager may not prove very useful. Nevertheless, this study went beyond a merely successful outcome, as the case managers were nominated as effective because of their career accomplishments.

5. Many researchers agree that there is a difference between management and leadership. Managers are generally seen as more focused on system and organization, while leaders are more people-focused and original. For a discussion on the differences between management and leadership see, for example, D. Cooper, Leadership For Follower Commitment, New York: 2003, Butterworth Heinemann.

6. For a discussion of leadership research see S. Burn, Groups: Theory and Practice,. Toronto: 2004, Thomson Wadsworth.

7. The 2001 report, Strategic Human Resources Analysis of Public Policing in Canada, produced by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Canadian Police Association, et al, with funding from Human Resources Development Canada, indicates that a significant number of senior police officers are eligible for retirement in the next few years.

8. For a discussion of methods for teaching leadership, see L. Blanchard, and A. Donahue, “Can Leadership in Public Administration Be Taught?”. Paper presented at the Teaching Public Administration Conference, Fort Walton Beach, Florida. February 10-12, 2005.