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You’re in Trouble: Now What?

You’re in Trouble: Now What?

Dr. Richard Weinblatt

Most police officers and deputy sheriffs are honorable men and women trying to do a difficult job. I regularly deal with law enforcement issues that involve law enforcers in bad circumstances. Whether they are in fact responsible for an act involving intent or omission, many officers, particularly those at the beginning of their careers, are baffled by the process that most end up confronting at some point. This article covers a general overview and gives you some insight into what happens to the officer who “gets in trouble.”

The policies and laws that govern personnel in law enforcement vary from agency to agency and state to state. Specific nuances of each area cannot be covered in this generalized article.

All officers end up having a complaint lodged against them at some point in their career. Some areas see more complaints while others appear to generate less. Officers who take certain steps can minimize the frequency of complaints lodged against them. That will be a future article. This article covers what to do if you get the dreaded call from the “Sarge.”

Complaints: Where They Come From

Complaints usually are generated by misunderstandings of a police – civilian interaction. I have long said that we in policing are own worst enemies as we tend to miss opportunities to diplomatically explain what we are doing and why. That has often done the trick for me in my experience and I have observed that it does so for others as well.

That said there are times when either the officer actually handles a situation badly or the person complaining cannot be reasoned with. Whatever the case, the sequence of events begins with the original complaint.

Whether you are a newly minted or veteran officer (or an aspiring one targeting a particular agency to work for), “must reading” is the department’s policies and procedures manual. That “bible” of the agency should be in writing and should reflect the status of current applicable statutes and case precedents, (you laugh, but quite a few “old school” administrators are not in touch with this concept).

While there is no national policy manual to govern the many local law enforcement agencies in the United States, laws, precedents, and past exemplary practices have helped to shape what are normal, standard of care parameters. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) have formulated model policies that address many of the officer complaint issues.

Whatever the origin of your agency’s policy book, that all-important document should clearly delineate what happens in the complaint process. It should be geared to treat the complaining party as well as the officer in a fair and impartial manner.

Next Page: The First Stop

  • Ronwestptjune2011_max50


    over 4 years ago


    As long ago as 2000, The Feds (I THINK Dept. of Labor) stated every time you walk outside you had a 78% chance of being on a video, camera or satellite. That was 11 years ago...Act like you always are...

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    Great article. Thank you Dr. Weinblatt

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    I'll second that tape recorder comment. Now that have audio/video recorders that clip to your lapel. Those are great and hardly noticable....

  • Csi_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Very good article thank you Richard,

  • 1410_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I been SAVED BY THE BOOK many times. Several of my complaints stem from the Sgt NOT KNOWING THE BOOK, or keeping updated on a policy change.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago



  • Officer_w_pavey_max50


    over 4 years ago


    One of the best things that I ever carried was a tape recorder. I can tell you that helped me out on several occasions. Another thing was to join the Legal Defense Fund. I joined it when it first came out, but I never had to used it during my carrer. I still thought that it was money well spent.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    Very important and informative article. Should your problem stretch beyond legal problems and encompass substance abuse, dont hesitate to contact Safecallnow. This is a confidential crisis referral service based in WA State. Laws here SPECIFICALLY protect callers and are confidential under state law RCW 43.101.125 and you will ALWAYS speak to a live person directly involved with Public Safety. or call 206-459-3020 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
    Stay safe.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago

    Agree with svlnj: Every agency had a dick who holds a grudge against subordinates in general. We had one here as well. That bastage is gone and I'm still standing. The dude was such a d-bag, behind his back nobody had any respect for this man. He took a job with a small dept upon retirement and eventually took a shot at an unarmed motorist who ran from a traffic stop. It's laughable because he would have tried to fire anyone under his charge if they had done the same thing on his watch. Like I said, this loser was a huge d-bag and most wish him nothing but torment for the rest of his miserable life. It's sad because you don't have to be that way with people.....especially those who you work with. God has a special place for losers like this.

    Thanks Richard, good stuff to review for all LE.

  • 1979_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Great article my Brother. It is very difficult to be a LEO, especially when you first start out. With cell phone video etc it is even more difficult to defend yourself against an edited or a portion of your actions being shown. This is why I firmly believe that you should have a IA review board that consists of not only a few senior Officers but also some retired Officers who understand the streets and have so much experience.

  • Mwg_-_copy_max50


    over 4 years ago


    This is why it is good to have a back-up like the National Police Defense Foundation ( in addition to your PBA or FOP legal representation!

  • John_groh_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Bump darsavmo on this one. And I would add that I have found that people are born with common sense. It is not something that can be taught. So many of the young Officers that worked for me over the years did not have it and it ended up with them causing them self many problems over the years.

  • Thinker_max50


    over 4 years ago


    The most important thing to have and use in LE is common sense. Have and use that and have 50% of what it takes to survive a LE career. Then come knowing both the law and your department policies. Last but not least is integrity. Most officers go down for integrity problems, usually lying about or trying to cover up your mistake, not the actual mistake itself. I had a Chief once tell me, if you don't get an occasional complaint, you probably aren't doing your job. But learn from your mistakes, don't repeat them, and with maturity and wisdom the complaints will be further and farther between...

  • Ship_patch_max50


    over 4 years ago


    With how hostile the Media, some of the public and special interest groups are toward LE, it
    seems very likely to happen sometime during your career nowadays.

  • Patch_max50


    about 5 years ago


    What about cases where the administration has a vendetta against an individual ???

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