The question has been posed as to whether or not an agency should conduct an audit of its internal affairs/professional standards investigations.  If so, the agency must department how to go about doing so.

In general, agencies should conduct audits of internal affairs investigations both past and current.  This provides numerous ways in which the agency can become more efficient in reviewing and keeping up with policies and procedures.  Additionally, an audit of past investigations may provide changes for the normative argument of “past practice”.

An agency should first look for a process to audit and review current internal investigations.  Doing so can provide additional input on the investigation itself, as well as the process.  This is not a daunting task for most agencies, depending on the amount of personnel within the department.  Such an audit is done by having a committee, normally comprised of administrative commissioned staff, review the final internal investigation prior to final submission.  Investigators creating search warrants are remiss if they don’t have one or more additional persons review the complaint for a search warrant and search warrant itself prior to submission to a judge.  More eyes reviewing the document are better than a single author.  This is true as well with internal investigations.  The internal investigator may be unaware of past practice, or may have a different interpretation of the policy or contract language.  An internal review and audit prior to final submission allows for more independent discussion.  Such a review may also lead to better transparency and fewer opportunities for the investigation to be questioned.  Such questioning may come from the public, the governing bodies, or in a disciplinary arbitration hearing.

The position of internal investigator changes within departments on a routine basis.  Individuals get promoted, move to other assignments, retire, or leave the role for other reasons.  Having been at my agency for 25 years, I have seen no less than 9 different individuals holding the internal affairs (professional standards) position.  Continuity of investigations is limited due to the relatively short tenure of the investigators, as well as a lack of training for the newly appointed investigator.  With this knowledge, it becomes pertinent for an agency to develop a method for auditing past investigations.  In doing so, the department is actually doing several services.  Past practice can be more defined and tracked.  Additionally, the new investigator has the opportunity to review prior cases and develop a proper investigation method in keeping with prior investigations (continuity of investigations).  

With a myriad of prior investigations in any given agency, how can such an audit of prior investigations be done efficiently?  It begins by utilizing the same review panel for current investigations.  Once the process has been done, a full audit of all past cases will not be necessary.  Moving forward from that point, a random sampling review can be accomplished.  The committee should focus on specific areas such as proper documentation, proper review of policy, law, and contract language for that given time, and proper application of any such discipline.  The review should then focus on any cases that have findings of “policy failure” or “no policy exists”.  Policy and contract language from that period then must be compared to current police and contract language.  This process allows the agency to assure that prior errors in a lack of or poor language within a policy has since been corrected.  Simply put, if we fail to change we have done ourselves, our department, and our community a disservice.

Audits or prior investigations should not be done with the focus of attempting to prove a prior investigator wrong or to undo discipline that should or should not have come to be.  Rather, it should be done with a focus on increasing efficiency and correcting past issues that have yet to be addressed.  A comparison may be made during such audits to the methods used now for investigations.  Technology has changed, and a review of older cases may show a new investigator how to utilize the tools at their disposal to conduct thorough and proper investigations.  Moreso, it can show new investigators how a thorough investigation may be done without the advantage of body camera or other similar footage.  There is a reason that officers with time and experience train newer officers for the field.  It is because there is institutional knowledge and experience that is lost if it is not passed down.  The same can be said for internal investigations.  Auditing prior cases assists in passing on prior knowledge, experience, and techniques.

An audit of internal affairs investigations seems like a daunting task.  However, with the proper measures and practices put into place it can serve as a benefit to the agency and its personnel moving forward.