What changes in Internal Affairs protocols do you feel are necessary today with the changing environment of new employees and potential police misconduct litigation?
Of course, we must evolve as law enforcement policies and procedures do. This is critical to the success of our missions. Our number one goal is all law enforcement officers go home safely at the end of their shifts. If they are not safe, the public is not safe.
Our new employees face a tougher challenge then the past generation of law enforcement officers. Not only do they need to fear for their and partners lives, they must always do the correct action. Cameras are everywhere and literally one social media post can travel across the world in minutes. Therefore, internal affairs policies and practices must be promoted to this generation of law enforcement. Administrators have to do a better job pushing these as well as assuring the consistent and fair process. The environment threat is also at a high level with the media coverage. Strict and educational policies on social media posts will help as many officers are fired every year for their radical and or frustrated posts.
I think the most important improved protocol we can push to the new generation of law enforcement officers is educating them on the internal affairs process. I think educating them on understand the process as well as the possibilities of discipline are critical. People in general are more open when they understand the process. Therefore, I think it is imperative we educate them on this process. It may mean putting them with IA for a couple of weeks as part of their FTO process. I know those records are confidential but we give them a badge and a gun so this additional responsibility is minimal in the totality of circumstances. If they see the process firsthand as well as the consistency and fairness of investigations, it will help send the message of doing right. Of course, with any agency, there MUST be ethical, fairness, and professionalism from IA staff for this to work positively.
Administrators must be on board for this to work. They cannot question the integrity of a new officer unless they have reason not to. This will difficult for administrators and rightfully so. Updating IA policies is key. Just this past August, Missouri passed a Law Enforcement Bill of Rights. Thus, all Missouri law enforcement agencies should have their policies updated to protect the rights of officers as be compliant with Missouri law. Our (Cole County Sheriff’s Office) policies were already pretty much in line with the new law. This is a good sign for us but clearly still need to be on the watch for new laws as well as updated case law. Administrators should have these kind of mechanisms in place for updated laws and/or case law. Thus, their policies can then change with the rest of the country.
The law enforcement threat today is more than I have seen in my career. Due to deaths during arrests and use of force incidents pushed by the national media outlets, law enforcement officers are targeted. This creates many fall-out issues. One being no or few qualified applicants, officers walking on egg shells in fear of being harmed or doing the wrong thing. Thus, creating liability.
In conclusion, keeping our polices updated with the current laws and case law will be huge in minimizing our misconduct litigation. However, the policies are only as good as the training we do to educate law enforcement officers. Just as important is the message our IA team and administrators send. The organization takes on the persona of the leader.