With eighty eight percent (88%) of the approximately 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States having less than 25 officers, there is a strong argument for the creation of regional investigative teams that focus on investigating allegations of misconduct. The fear of losing control that was expressed by some agencies during the original development of the officer involved shooting (OIS) team concept, have generally not been realized. The OIS team concept in Region 3 of the Pacific Northwest has provided outstanding investigations while still allowing the agency to retain control of the final product. I believe that the implementation of an Internal Affairs Regional Team would also provide consistent and impartial investigations that are free of internal politics and bias; while still allowing the agency to retain final control of the discipline if that is appropriate outcome.

Using my region as a guide, it will be important to understand that staffing a Regional Internal Affairs Team will be challenging because the staffing levels available in each of the five counties vary based on the number of incorporated cities and the number of commissioned personnel currently working for each County Sheriff’s Office. As it is with the OIS team, some counties are able to provide more resources while other counties are unable to provide any resources. The counties that are able to provide more resources will need to shift their opinion from the idea that there is an equity imbalance to the idea that when we help those agencies that are unable to help themselves we are all better off because we ensure all agencies in the region are fielding professional law enforcement personnel, or as John F. Kennedy said during a 1963 speech, “A high tide raises all ships.”

It would be untenable for the Internal Affairs Regional Team to assumed responsibility for all citizen complaints every agency in the region received. The complaints that the team would investigate would need to be clearly outlined in the interagency compact that would be used to initiate the team. My recommendation for the types of cases the Team would investigate regardless of whether the incident occurred in Operations or Corrections would include the following:

  • In custody death
  • In custody serious injury
  • Allegations of excessive use of force
  • Incidents where a citizen has been killed or seriously injured and law enforcement is the proximate cause of the injury or death. (e.g. A pursuit where the bad guy crashes into the van filled with nuns)
  • Allegations of corruption
  • Allegations of behavior that tarnishes the Law Enforcement Profession
  • Any allegation that if proven true would result in demotion, termination of employment, or De-certification by the state.

Even though we have seen a plethora of case examples this week, I still believe that the vast majority of the approximately 750,000 law enforcement officers working in the United States are doing their jobs with honor. I also believe that when an officer steps off the path for whatever reason, it is a shock to the system and the Chief or Sheriff tends to respond from a place of emotion; in the face of perceived betrayal, they do not care about due process, they want to cast out the offender. It would be the role of the Internal Affairs Investigation Team to speak truth to power and provide alternate courses of action that acknowledge the Chief or Sheriff’s emotions while still providing options that may save the agency money and heartache in the future.

With so many agencies struggling to simply field the resources they need to meet the basic mandates of the job, it is not right to expect them to also handle the serious citizen complaints. By not accepting the idea that certain complaints should be handled by an outside investigative team, we as a profession are failing to appreciate their struggle while still holding them to the same consequences as agencies with enough personnel to field an Internal Affairs office.