Police departments, specifically their Office of Professional Standards (OPS) or Internal Affairs (IA), should have
a set of standards or guidelines when dealing with personnel complaints. Treating every complaint from inception to
completion with the same high standards, all while following the foundations of Procedural Justice throughout, provides a
baseline for unquestionable investigations. However, the unfortunate reality is that a specific complaint can be
complicated when the complainant is a fellow employee (sworn or non-sworn) alleging misconduct against another
The unique culture within a majority of police departments is what keeps them strong and successful. There
exists a bond between members that is like no other, with a heavy emphasis on brotherhood, family, and trust; officers
always take care of their own and never go against the “blue.” Thus, when an employee has either direct or indirect
knowledge of a fellow officer engaging in misconduct, it can be very stressful for that individual. Most will typically
battle an internal dialog of what to do with such information. Do they come forward publicly or privately and do what’s
right, while risking their relationships with other officers and status within the department? Or do they keep that
information close to their chest and hope it never gets out, all while weighing on their mind?
Not only should police departments have a set standard for handling all complaints, but there should also be a
standard for dealing with the internal issues that may arise from this type of situation. Safeguards must be in place to
protect the complaining officer; otherwise, it is unlikely they will ever come forward with any information. This is not
only unfair for the officer as it adds an immeasurable amount of stress on their lives but unfair to the department and
police world in general as that officer is toxic and could drastically affect the relationship between police and community.
The obvious answer is to have an Anti-Retaliation policy in place. As great as that sounds, a policy of this nature
is no different from an order of protection, a glorified piece of paper saying it will protect a person from many forms of
retaliation – very reactive. Departments must recognize that and take a proactive approach to uphold the policy;
otherwise, it will likely be ineffective. Not only should the policy be upheld, but it should be afforded equally to everyone
within the department. Politics and favoritism cannot show in these situations as the department opens itself to significant
liability. Every department member, from rank and file to administration, must monitor the situation and ensure the
officer isn’t mistreated after coming forward against another. No matter the severity of retaliation, there must be zero
tolerance, and each instance must be dealt with quickly and appropriately.
No matter how guarded a department tries to make an internal investigation, it is a guaranteed matter of time
before word gets leaked on the matter. In certain circumstances, using unit Commanders/Supervisors or OPS as the
source of the complaint may eliminate any potential backlash the officer may receive. Ultimately reaching OPS, they
would take the information provided and complete a full investigation without ever requiring the assistance of the witness
officer. Again, the circumstances must be suitable for this to happen. For example, the witness officer cannot be the sole
witness of the misconduct. If they were, there must be another way to prove such misconduct (i.e., body-worn cameras,
street cameras, in-house cameras, private establishment surveillance, etc.). The investigation could then be masked under
a random spot check or anonymous complainant.
If the witness officer can only verify the allegations, regardless of the severity of said allegations and potential
punishment, the Chief of Police should address the entire department in person. The administration should make its
stance on the matter known and address any unwarranted retaliation against the officer. This should be done early in the
investigation, as word travels fast through the gossip chains. The Chief should make it known that: officer misconduct
will not be tolerated; misconduct affects everyone within the department, locally and potentially nationally; the witness
officer did what was right and should be commended for their fortitude in coming forward; and that there will be zero
tolerance for any retaliation against them for doing so.
The administration and supervision must support the Chief’s stance; otherwise, it is meaningless. Gaining outright
support from the Union would also have a significant impact. Furthermore, the Chief of Police’s speech must not be the
“hot topic” for a week and then forgotten. Throughout all department ranks, there must be deliberate monitoring of the
situation for an extended time.
In dealing with internal membership disputes, there is always the option of involving a third-party mediator.
Mediation has been proven to allow individuals to communicate their feelings and frustrations, all while working towards
a common ground. Unfortunately, its effectiveness is questionable in the police world, as most individuals have an alpha
mentality and are not open to mediation and therapy. In settling disputes, mediation methods can vary from the traditional
conference room style to legitimate boxing matches; as long as all parties are willing and agree. This is not necessarily
ideal, but agencies need to think outside the box if all else fails.
Everyone within a department must have a leadership mentality, no matter their position. One can lead up, lead
down, and lead from anywhere within an organization; that way, everyone has a vested interest in making it their mission
to improve the organization.
Departments cannot solely rely on State and Federal laws most commonly covered by the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission. There is case law (Vance v. Ball State University, 133 S. Ct. 2434, 2013) that explicitly
addresses “hostile work environments” and “failing to prevent harassment,” however, departments should take a more
personal and deliberate approach to protect its members.
Realistically, it would be ideal if police departments, their leaders, and members took a more proactive approach
to officer misconduct and could recognize warning signs, allowing them to intervene before anything occurs. Police
officers face enough scrutiny from the public daily; officers shouldn’t be intentionally putting themselves in a position for
further scrutiny or criticism. If an issue is recognized early, it should be addressed early instead of monitoring it. If an
officer doesn’t feel it is their place to do so, phone a friend or supervisor, or even better, utilize the department’s peer
support team. There should be a much bigger emphasis on preventing misconduct before it happens than effectively
implementing safeguards to protect those involved when it does happen.