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 PoliceLink.com 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.