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You’re in Trouble: Now What?

You’re in Trouble: Now What?

Dr. Richard Weinblatt

So What’s Next?

Following the conclusion of the investigation, findings and recommendations are made and forwarded up the chain of command with one of the four (or similar) following dispositions:

1) Sustained: The officer did as the allegation said. 2) Not Sustained: The allegation could not be proven or unproven 3) Unfounded: The allegation is false. The officer wasn’t present during the allegation or the actions did not occur. 4) Exonerated: The officer did the act or omission alleged, but that it did not constitute a violation of policy.

Most agencies will provide a written copy of the findings to the officer, as well as to the originator of the complaint. The disposition also tends to make its way for a period of time into performance reviews, as well as to specialized assignment transfer requests.

Employees in a probationary employment status with a finding of sustained are particularly vulnerable during the disciplinary phase as their protections are few, if any. In most places, there is little recourse as a probationary officer can be terminated at any time during that probationary period. Probation is normally pegged at one year, although there are a few departments where it can run for two years. It can also be extended under remedial or disciplinary instances.

If it is sustained and the employee is terminated, he or she (if off probation) usually has the ability within a certain time frame to appeal or grieve the matter to a neutral party such as the civil service board or the city manager.

If the sustained allegation results in a suspension, departments usually have guidelines as to how that suspension is served. For example, with a smaller suspension punishment, the employee may be able to use accrued vacation time to settle the matter. For longer periods, they may be able to only utilize half.

Some departments will send the employee to remedial training. This is seen quite a bit for officers who are involved in on-duty vehicle crashes who are sent to driver training. Officers who use inappropriate language are often enrolled in human diversity or sensitivity training.

Being in trouble is no fun either as a teenager or an adult law enforcer. The key difference for the officer or deputy sheriff is to remain calm and be professional in the face of the allegation. Emotional or irrational actions will only lend credibility to any complaint and not help the search for the truth or your service to the community.

Dr. Richard Weinblatt, a criminal justice educator and former police chief, has written articles and provided media commentary for national and local media since 1989. He can be reached via

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