Does this investigative process have a name?
January 9, 2011 9:17 PM   Subscribe

A law enforcement officer is investigating a case. The officer takes clues such as photographs and pieces of paper and pins them to a wall or cork board. Yarn or string is stretched between some of the pins to indicate a relationship between those clues. What is this investigative process or technique called?

I've attempted to Google this to no avail. I don't know if this is a technique used in real life, or some type of trope. I'd like to read more about it to see if it would help me organize information. An example of this process from TV would be Special Agent Mark Benford's Mosaic Wall from FlashForward. An example from a movie (though not a LEO investigation, very similar) would be John Nash's investigation in A Beautiful Mind.
posted by Rob Rockets to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds something like qualitative data analysis.
posted by Sternmeyer at 9:24 PM on January 9, 2011

Kind of like social network analysis? This is the first thing that comes to mind, but it generally refers to connections between people.
posted by _cave at 9:25 PM on January 9, 2011

As a trope it's referred to as Connect the Deaths but don't know if it has an official name.
posted by iconomy at 9:26 PM on January 9, 2011

There are mind maps, and org charts.

I've seen both used in tv and movies--but then, I watch a lot of cop stuff.
posted by box at 9:34 PM on January 9, 2011

I certainly don't know from an academic standpoint but this just screams TV to me. You know -- set dressers and production designers desperately trying to add some visual flair to a pile of photos and newspaper clippings.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:35 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would think Entity Relationship Model in database design. More simply ER diagrams.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:41 PM on January 9, 2011

Best answer: It's the low-tech version of link diagrams, I think. Derived from social network analysis methods.
posted by gingerest at 9:57 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do real cops actually do this?

On TV crime shows it's mostly done for two purposes. Firstly, it introduces an object or objects of visual interest into a scene that is mostly comprised of dialogue exposition. Secondly, it allows the viewer to see certain details in stark focus that might not have been hammered home hard enough already (for instance "The victim was wearing designer shoes").

I'm not sure it's an actual thing that the police really do.
posted by Sara C. at 10:19 PM on January 9, 2011

In generic terms, what you're describing is a type of graphic organizing. As far as I know the process of using a graphic organizer for criminal investigation doesn't have an official name, it's just one of many available problem-solving techniques and a method of information management. It also stimulates brain-storming.

I'm not sure how common it is outside the realm of television and movies. My husband is a police officer in a tiny department (they have a grand total of one detective), and our town has very little major crime, so this isn't a method of investigation any officers here are intimately familiar with.

Graphic organizing techniques are very common in courtrooms, though, especially in jury trials where it's important to convey information in an easy-to-understand, visually memorable way.
posted by amyms at 10:40 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding link diagram. Social network analysis is one source of labeled links, but the general diagrammatic technique is what you'd see anyone use while brainstorming on a whiteboard - the usual circle and stick deal.

What an investigator is doing with a link diagram is often keeping track of associations between people (possibly including places, events, and evidence).
posted by zippy at 10:44 PM on January 9, 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - Chapter 1 - Return To The Circus - Part 1

cue to 7.35. Is this what you mean. I have heard called 'pulling the threads', 'stringing the threads' etc. though i do not know its offical title.
posted by clavdivs at 10:45 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

er, what zippy said.
posted by clavdivs at 10:46 PM on January 9, 2011

I can't speak for the rest of the planet, but New York City detectives do not do this.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:40 AM on January 10, 2011

It could be a form of concept map for cops, although on tv the semantic links between the objects in the maps are usually not defined, but are provided by exposition.
posted by carter at 3:55 AM on January 10, 2011

gingerest and zippy have it right. The process itself is called link analysis. The military always uses this process. It was around at the beginning stages of social network analysis.
posted by miasma at 4:49 AM on January 10, 2011

it's just link analysis, or social network analysis... now there are better tools to do this, i2 Analyst Notebook, etc...
posted by fozzie33 at 7:08 AM on January 10, 2011

In law enforcement or intelligence it's called link analysis, which is just a special form of social network analysis.
posted by scalefree at 2:23 PM on January 10, 2011

NYC detectives have CompStat, which ostensibly does this for them. The WP article claims that CompStat started as "Charts of the Future," a pins-and-maps based system, and that the maps were called the "wall paper."
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 8:13 PM on January 10, 2011

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