The question has been posed as to whether or not public safety employees should be allowed representation during compelled administrative investigation interviews. In looking into any question like this, I think it is important to look at it from multiple perspectives and to weigh the positives and negatives from each perspective. In this case, most people would say there are two perspectives to look at this from; the perspective of the agency, and the perspective of the accused employee. I believe, however, that there are no less than four perspectives when dealing with an administrative investigation of a police officer. In addition to the agency and the employee, we must consider the union or bargaining unit’s point of view and, perhaps most importantly, the perspective of the public we serve.
First, I want to consider the employee and how having a representative can affect them. From the employee’s perspective the only negative would be potentially having another police officer there to witness a potentially embarrassing situation. The advantages of having a representative accompany them is that they have a support system there with them that can make them feel more at ease. Also, the legal ins and outs of the disciplinary process and compelled statements can be confusing. Having a representative there to provide insight and advice to the accused employee is a huge benefit to the employee. The guidance of a trained and/or experienced representative could be very valuable to an accused employee, whether or not there is any merit to the accusation being investigated.
From the perspective of a police union or bargaining unit there are really all pros and no cons to having a representative accompany an accused employee during an interview. Having the representative there helps ensure that the employee is given due process and that damaging precedents are not set that could affect future cases. Also, being in the room helps the union gain valuable knowledge that can help them try to prevent future incidents of the same type. In my experience, the union wants the same thing as the agency; for things to run smoothly and nothing bad to happen. The only possible negative to having representatives in every interview would be the hassle to union reps, especially in a larger agency that conducts several interviews a month. Ultimately, I do not see why a union would not want to be in the room with their accused member.
Many would think that the agency would be against having a representative present when they are taking a compelled statement from an accused employee. However, having the representative there is a huge benefit for the agency. The representative, in theory, should be knowledgeable about the process and could aid in keeping the employee from being confrontational. The downside would be if the representative was confrontational, but the interviewer should control that easily. Ultimately, agencies have a huge investment of time and training in each employee. The agency wants its employees to succeed because if they succeed, the agency succeeds. Making sure the employees are given due process when they are accused of wrongdoing only helps the employer keep its good people good and to get rid of the bad people without loopholes that bring them back. Overall, the agency stands to benefit from allowing employee representation in internal interviews.
The general public is the trickiest perspective to understand, which is ironic because we all make up part of the general public. The public wants its police departments held to the highest standard and could feel that giving any advantage to a police officer accused of wrongdoing is just a form of trying to protect our own. An educated public should understand that doing things right; meaning giving each accused officer due process as is required by law; is the best way to hold police officers and police agencies accountable. Ultimately it is up to the agency to maintain a good relationship with the public they serve and to educate them as to why allowing for due process is the best way to ensure accountability that lasts.
As I have demonstrated, I believe that public service employees, specifically police officers, should be allowed representation during compelled statements as part of administrative investigations. The ultimate goal of all involved should be for things to be done right, which means that the accused officer is given due process. Allowing for representation during an internal interview is part of that due process and ultimately adds to the disciplinary process.