Source Investigation Toolkit

Checklist of Steps to Establish a Source Investigation Program

Source investigations are a tactic that use criminal and administrative investigative techniques to determine where alcohol was purchased and/or consumed when an alcohol-impaired driving or underage drinking and driving crash has occurred. Source investigations have similarities and differences from other types of backtrack investigations. For example, the scene of a traffic crash that results in a source investigation can be graphic and grotesque in nature. A level of sensitivity and understanding is required when dealing with family and friends of the deceased or injured as well as family and friends of the suspect. Interviews of the suspect and/or witnesses may occur in jail and/or in a hospital. The most important difference between a routine backtrack investigation and a source investigation is the timeliness in beginning and completing the investigation.

If your agency chief or director is not familiar with source investigations explain the program to him/her and the necessity of conducting source investigations. Explain that source investigations are a parallel investigation to the first responding agency.

Source investigations promote good public relations in the community and opportunities for collaboration with allied law enforcement agencies. Describe how source investigations are another tool in educating the public on the ramifications of drinking and driving, preventing impaired crashes by stopping the sale of alcohol to underage or inebriated persons. Conducting source investigations is another way for law enforcement agencies to fulfill their duties in keeping the public safe. Most investigations can be conducted during normal shifts; source investigations should not cause a significant fiscal impact. However, if more funds are needed, you may wish to contact your State highway safety office to inquire whether State funds are available. Some States have been successful in securing funds through grants to support source investigation programs.

No doubt your agency already has a good, symbiotic relationship with the law enforcement agencies in your jurisdiction. However, if not, reach out to the Chief or Sheriff through your agency's protocol. Explain source investigations and how your agency intends to conduct a parallel source investigation to the investigation being conducted by the local law enforcement agency or the highway patrol when an alcohol-related traffic crash occurs. Clarify that your investigation will in no way interfere with the primary investigation. Point out that being notified as soon as possible about an alcohol-related injury or death is in the best interest of the investigation in preserving evidence and witness recollection. To educate the local law enforcement on the source investigation protocol, attend roll call line-ups and give a brief training to the officers or deputies. If possible, create a 24-hour hot line for local law enforcement to report possible source investigation cases.

The most efficient way to obtain local and Statewide support is to bring together all those involved by contacting the Sheriff and Chiefs Associations, the Attorney General, District Attorney Association and Presidents of advocacy groups, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) or Parent Teacher Association (PTA's). Provide them with an overview of the importance of source investigations and how they are conducted. Advocacy groups are a great ally in promoting positive media and educating the public on new programs.

After obtaining the support of your agency command, ask them to help bring together the above entities. In the event your command gives you full responsibility over this project, reach out to your local advocacy groups to organize a meeting of the local groups mentioned. Start with your local contacts in each of the organizations and share with them your passion for this project. If necessary, bring together first-line supervisors who can take information about source investigations back to their respective agencies to work up the chain of command to gain the support of the organization's decision makers. Don't give up.

Use your local community coalitions and media advocacy groups to promote the program. When making your presentation to these groups always remember to share how a source investigation is a parallel investigation and that the investigation provides positive public relations by going after the source of the alcohol that contributed to a tragedy. Stress that source investigations are another tool in educating the public of their liability for over serving an individual who ultimately gets behind the wheel of a car.

When possible, gain support from local alcoholic beverage distributors and/or manufacturers as well as any alcohol retail associations as it may be beneficial in building trust and goodwill. This may not be an easy collaboration, but it is in the best interest of the servers of alcoholic beverages to work with you. If your community has a bar or restaurant association, make an appointment with the president of the association to explain the program. It is not necessary for them to agree with or support the program. The contact with the association is simply an act of goodwill with the hope they will pass along the information to their members. If your State offers or requires server training it would be beneficial to have a segment educating the students/servers about the source investigation program.

Building a relationship with reporters can bring long-term benefits in terms of positive press. If you have a Public Information Officer (PIO) in your agency, educate them on the source investigation program. If your agency protocol on media matters is directed through the PIO then educate your PIO on how source investigations serve as a good tool for building trust and confidence with the media. If possible, bring your PIO along on a source investigation. The media look for good public interest stories; the response to a tragedy that results from a source investigation may interest them. Provide your local media outlet with your agency's phone number or the phone numbers of those agents assigned to conduct source investigations; when the media are made aware of a traffic fatality they can make direct contact with the agent or agency. The media would then be able to follow the progress of the investigation (public information only) and ultimately report on the final outcomes of any administrative and/or criminal proceedings.

If you do not have a 24-hour local media outlet, monitor or subscribe to web-based media alerts as another source for information concerning major traffic crashes.

Similar to a hotline for local law enforcement, provide access to the 24-hour hot line to the general public so they can contact your agency in relation to possible source investigation cases or provide confidential tips about current investigations. They may know of personal situations or have seen possible cases on social media outlets, electronic news alerts, newspaper articles, or television news sources.

Some agencies "hand pick" the individuals who will conduct source investigations within their agency. Other agencies train all agents to be able to conduct source investigations. Either philosophy of the command staff will work.

Below are a few characteristics for the ideal source investigation agent. The agent should:

  • Be tenured and have experience working on a variety of different investigations;
  • Have a professional demeanor and good interviewing techniques, keeping in mind the sensitivity in dealing with family members of victims and suspects in jail;
  • Have strong report writing skills;
  • Have a demonstrated ability to conduct investigations in a timely manner; and
  • Have experience in testifying at administrative and/or criminal proceedings.

Once the individuals who will be conducting the source investigations are identified they will need to be trained. This toolkit will provide all of the necessary tools needed to conduct a source investigation. Follow the outline step by step. Included in this toolkit are sample interview questions that will assist you in getting started. Review the toolkit, and then write out your plan for how you will conduct the investigation. For example, who will you contact from the first responding law enforcement agency, what witnesses will you interview, where will you interview them, and so on.

It is important that you either set up a separate data collection system to track key data elements of each source investigation or that you incorporate the key data elements into your existing case management system. This data is not the evidence and information collected during the investigation, but rather the data that documents the level of effort expended and the outcome of each investigation. Adequate funding to support source investigations can be accelerated if you have data that demonstrates the staff and resource demands needed to conduct these types of investigations, as well as the results of those efforts.

In order to keep track of each source investigation you conduct, there are certain pieces of information that are important to collect in a systematic way. Described in greater detail below, this information will help you remember and report the key elements of each case as well as help you track the case process, outcomes and barriers to each investigation. If possible, you may also want to track the number of hours that investigators spend on each source investigation. 

Key Data Elements to Collect

  • Date of incident
  • Date case was opened - you should document the day you received the case, and, if possible, how it was referred to you.
  • Reason case was opened - Brief summary of the incident and include whether it was a traffic crash or other type of incident (e.g., drowning, fall, pedestrian, etc.)
  • Number of fatalities - how many people were killed in the incident
  • Characteristics of individual being investigated in relation to the crash
    • Age
    • Gender
    • Deceased, injured, not injured
    • BAC (if available)
    • Location of last drink - on premise, off premise, unknown
  • Characteristics of individual(s) fatally injured in incident
    • Age
    • Gender
    • BAC (if available)
    • Location of last drink - on premise, off premise, unknown
  • Source of information on the incident - it is helpful to write down where you find information. This can include media coverage, local police department, state police, citizen call/inquiry, inquiry from victim’s family, and other sources.
  • Number of investigators on the case
    • Investigator title
    • Number of years as ABC law enforcement
  • Name(s) of other agencies involved in the investigation - this could include local police departments or other state agencies.
  • Date of relevant news stories/media coverage
  • Name of media & link to all coverage - keeping track of media coverage can help if you ever need to refer back to a particular story.
  • Any law enforcement agency press releases on the investigation?
    • Provide link if possible
  • Criminal charges filed? If yes, describe - Write whether there were criminal charges filed in the case, and if so, what the charge was. You can include whether the primary investigating agency filed charges against the individual involved in the incident, as well as whether any criminal charges were filed against the providers of the alcohol.
  • Date of criminal charges filed - Keep track of the date the charges were filed so you can determine how long each source investigation takes through each phase.
  • Court date
  • Final disposition of case - Document what the decision was in court and the penalty imposed if appropriate.
  • Date of final disposition of case - in addition to when the case was brought to court, track when the case was closed.
  • Reason if no charges filed - Describe why no charges were filed- it may be because there was not enough evidence or there was no violation of the law.
  • Administrative charges filed? If yes, describe - Similar to criminal charges, document whether administrative charges were filed and what the charges were.
  • Date of administrative charges filed - Document the date administrative charges were brought.
  • Final disposition of case - Write down what the final results of the administrative case were and if appropriate, the penalties administered.
  • Reason if no charges filed - Document why no administrative charges were filed against the licensed alcohol establishment. Again, this could be for lack of evidence or lack of violation.
  • Obstacles encountered during the investigation - writing down some of the problems you and your department faced during the investigation may help improve investigations in the future, can help secure additional funding or grant opportunities
  • Any additional information of the investigation - if there is anything relevant to the case that you didn’t include in any of the other sections, be sure to write it down so you have all the information about each case.
Taken together, these pieces of data will help tell a complete story about each source investigation you conduct. This could be valuable for funding opportunities, determining training needs, quality improvements, or agency accountability. The more information you can track, the better. Appendix E provides a sample reporting form that can be easily used to document information relevant to your cases and modified to meet your agency’s needs.