A Good Memory
Memory is the storing of information in the brain over time. The three types of memory — sensory, short term, and long term — are all stored in different parts of the brain for different periods and using different methods. Long-term memory can be divided into different types as well. Many scientists believe that some types, more permanent than others, may weaken over time. At any rate, no matter how good your memory is, don't rely on it unless it's absolutely necessary. Keep a notebook and two pens with you. If you have trouble writing or if you're on a moving surveillance, take a small tape recorder. During those times when it's impossible to use either, memory comes into play.
Simple exercises help to improve memory. However, the very act of committing something to memory will strengthen your memory processes. Memorize poems, quotes, and passages from books or scripture. While you drive, memorize vehicle tags, phone numbers, and messages on signs. See how many strings of numbers you can hold in your mind at one time. This is short-term memory, but repetition delivers this information to your long-term memory bank.
The world is full of sights and sounds, so much stimuli that it's impossible to attend to all of it at once. You have learned to pay attention to what's important and disregard the rest, but memory is tricky on many levels. People attend to different aspects of situations for vastly different reasons. This explains how several witnesses can describe the same offender with such varying details they may as well be describing different people. Chapter 19 discusses memory as it relates to interviewing suspects, witnesses, and victims.
Memory may be affected by many things. Therefore, record as much as is feasible, not only because it fills in the blanks for attention, but also because it provides proof of case details. Increasingly, more police departments have outfitted patrol vehicles with cameras for this very reason. For years, federal agencies have recorded all aspects of raids and crime scenes. The technology is there; it makes sense to use it.
How can exercise improve my memory?
A meta-analysis of eighteen studies showed exercise to be an effective tool for improvement of brain function, even in those over seventy years of age. As little as thirty to sixty minutes of fast walking several times weekly slows frontal cortex shrinkage and releases growth factors that increase connections between neurons. In this way, exercise is strongly related to increased memory and reduced dementia.
The following resources are a good place to start if you're interested in brain research:
Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys but Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life, by Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang
Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life, by Steven Johnson
The Better Brain Book, by Dr. David Perlmutter and Carol Coleman
As you continue to research, stick to recognized sources. There's a lot of misinformation out there.
When you record an important fact, be sure to include the date, time, and place of occurrence. If others were present, note their names and phone numbers. If your case goes to trial, you may be asked to provide such information. Nothing causes a jury to view an investigator as lazy, incompetent, or uncaring more than hearing him answer “I don't know” too many times. Opposing counsel will use this to impugn credibility. It's all right to not know — occasionally. In fact, you absolutely must admit when you don't know — never try to wing it or pretend — but recording pertinent information will reduce “I don't know” answers and increase your credibility.
If you opt to use a tape recorder instead of a notebook, be sure that any essentials, such as batteries or chargers, are available. A recorder is great when you are on a moving surveillance, but keep a notebook for backup. A notebook can be useful when you're on foot surveillance or when you're unable to speak sensitive case details into a recorder.
The best investigators record incidentals such as weather, temperature, and unusual details about the target or his environment. Develop this habit. Record the comings and goings of people and vehicles, not merely at the target residence or business, but in the surrounding area. This need not be included in your report unless proven relevant, but sometimes who or what is relevant won't be apparent until you have gathered more information, so record what you see and hear. These items are verifiable bits of information that create the perception of professionalism and boost the credibility of testimony.
When taking notes during interviews, write very little — jot only the main points, numbers, dates, etc. Pay more attention to your subject than to your notebook, but as soon as possible, supplement your notes so that they make sense; otherwise, they may appear unintelligible later.