You’re in Trouble: Now What?
Dr. Richard Weinblatt
The First Stop
The first stop on the journey is usually the officer’s supervisor. In some departments, uniformed patrol supervisors can handle the complaint, while more egregious allegations need to be forwarded up the chain of command or to the professional standards or internal affairs unit.
Your agency should treat all complaining parties with the respect and fairness you would hope would be afforded to your family members if they were to come forward with an allegation. Only by doing so, will the process be respected and the findings have credibility.
At this point, it should be readily apparent that any documentation you have concerning your actions is vital to your defense. Police reports should contain a tremendous amount of relevant (key word – relevant) detail. Police reports that are vague and lack important detail are not helpful in the criminal prosecution and can be damaging to you during any civil tort action taken against you and or your agency. Other types of evidence, such as patrol car dash cams, can go a long way towards quickly resolving a complaint.
For example, as a police chief, I received complaints of officer conduct during traffic stops. A review of the in-car video footage was all it took usually to get at the truth and exonerate the officer in question. A good administrator will examine all available evidence to be able to come to a fair and impartial determination.
Generally speaking, officers in heavily unionized departments, such as in the Northeast portion of the United States, are afforded a little more protection. Officers in right to work states, such as in the Southeast, have less recourse. In the Southeast, many of the elected sheriffs, as ruled by the courts in North Carolina, have more ability to discipline and terminate their deputies, who are serving at will, than police chiefs do with municipal police officers.
Depending on the severity of the allegation and the supervisory staff’s preliminary determination of that misconduct’s probability of occurrence, the employee may be suspended with or without pay pending further investigation.
If the agency is following an accepted standard of internal investigation procedures, the accused officer will have the right to have the accusation or complaint shown to him or her in written form. The officer would also be interviewed at a reasonable hour or within their normal working hours, as well as be afforded reasonable breaks during the interview.