In law enforcement, it is commonly stated that the most important division of a law enforcement organization is the Recruiting and Background Division. How thorough the background investigator is during that process, in order to weed out the proverbial bad apples, is absolutely crucial for the organization. Failure to complete an accurate background investigation at the beginning stage and not catching the issues that would disqualify that applicant before even hiring them, only sets the stage for a future Administrative Investigation on this now duly employed employee. If Recruiting does not hold up their end of the bargain, then rest assured Internal Affairs will be dealing with that improper hire sometime down the road regarding some type of law enforcement misconduct. Often, the misconduct may be so severe or egregious that it may result in a Fourth or Eighth Amendment litigation with a pending lawsuit that now involves the hiring agency, the city or county government as a whole, and multiple highly paid attorneys.
So, how can Internal Affairs adapt and attempt to combat this changing environment of new employees and the ever-present litigation resulting from law enforcement misconduct? I believe there is a two part solution to this question. First, when Internal Affairs identifies a potential issue or area of concern, the specific issue should then be brought to the Administration’s attention so that the matter may be rectified or perhaps modified for clarity. As an example, the issue at hand could be a potentially misleading policy issue or a previously generally accepted practice within the organization that may need to now be altered or eliminated completely. Secondly, every supervisor within the agency has the duty to actively supervise their subordinates and provide leadership, counsel, and even discipline, if deemed necessary, in order to manage and maintain good order within their circle of responsibility. Both solutions to this question ought to work hand-in-hand.
Concerning the first solution, the Internal Affairs Office is in a unique position at the law enforcement agency because every type of internal matter of the organization passes through its doors; either by Internal Affairs handling the Administrative Investigation in its entirety, or, at least having a general knowledge of the investigation even if it was handled by another division of the agency. Regardless, when specific deficiencies or areas of concern are identified, Internal Affairs should document the issue and assist the Administration in providing corrective or preventative options that would serve as solutions. As an example, there may be established policy agency wide that every call for service must be video and audio recorded while interacting with the public. However, Internal Affairs identifies and then verifies that this policy is not being followed consistently by nearly every deputy in each patrol precinct and district across the entire agency. Rather than having nearly every patrol deputy in the agency disciplined for violating this policy, a fairer and more appropriate approach is to have every patrol captain and district commander specifically address their staff with the identified issue and stress the absolute importance to strictly adhere to the identified policy. Then, if incidents of the same occur afterwards, the individual employee could be counseled and disciplined as deemed necessary. By addressing and correcting a common issue agency-wide, the liability and risk of potential litigation to the agency has been reduced regarding that concern.
Secondly, in our agency, it is acknowledged that the words “Internal Affairs” actually means that every supervisor is Internal Affairs. Internal Affairs in that sense is not a single office with a small staff of a supervisor, sergeants and a clerk; rather, it is all-encompassing and agency wide. Yes, the Internal Affairs Office may be the brick-and-mortar office that maintains and holds all of the physical or electronic internal files, be it the Citizen Complaints, Inquiries and Administrative Investigations, but every single supervisor across our agency may be tasked at any given time to conduct and complete an internal investigation.
Our agency has nearly one thousand employees with a County footprint well over 1,000 square miles in size and a massive population growth that increases workloads and responsibilities onto every supervisor. We also have a 1,253 bed jail with a multitude of both pre-trial and sentenced inmates, which only adds to the risk and liability of the County while that inmate is entrusted into our care. Thus, it is imperative that our supervisors, supervise. Each supervisor has the responsibility to lead, teach, train, instruct, provide guidance, constructive criticism and perhaps even discipline if so warranted. The supervisor is on the front lines, and must be aware of what his or her charges are doing, both correctly and incorrectly. By being aware of employee issues or areas of concern, they can provide that guidance in order to help mold and correct any potential issues that may have been identified. Again, that specific identified liability has been reduced.
In sum, Internal Affairs is in a unique position of addressing areas of concern regarding new employees as well as potential police misconduct litigation once the new employee has been hired and is working at the agency. Internal Affairs should strive to identify potential areas of concern, and provide the necessary guidance to the Administration so the matter is rectified either at a division level or agency-wide. Identifying and correcting an issue at the on-set, rather than after a court ordered judgement or through consent decree mandates, can save a law enforcement agency much time, money and agony. Secondly, each supervisor must be actively supervising their charges and provide good and proper leadership, counsel, and even discipline if deemed necessary in order to manage and maintain good order within the agency. If both solutions are followed, the agency should be well on its way in maintaining best practices and professional standards across the board and reducing potential police misconduct litigation.