Arthur P. Meister
Officer involved (OI) crime scene
When an OI recklessly or willfully engages criminal conduct, on could presume they forfeit any expectation of loyalty or friendship from peers or cohorts. But, that’s not always the case. There are interpersonal intangibles that make an OI situation different. Years of familiarity, camaraderie, deference to loyalty and friendship, and sense of entitlement can tend to mitigate an OI’s actions. The need to remain impartial yet supportive to the extent it doesn’t interfere with the integrity of the investigation will be a delicate part of the mix.
It’s one thing when the OI is arrested outright and processed through the system, but another when the facts are uncertain and the officer is still in the shop. In either case, the investigation must be protected; consciously kept separate from casual interactions and conversations engaged with the OI during its required course. It’s not just the crime, but the potential for civil action, too, that requires a thorough and unassailable collection and assessment of evidence and investigative follow through. It should be done by personnel from another division or department to avoid the taint or any hint of preferential treatment.
Naturally, as a supervisor you would ensure the OI is afforded the due process he or she is entitled to under the law, and be honest and forthright about official policy, procedures. Avoid coaching or doing anything that could undermine or obstruct what is required to resolve the situation as it should be. Interaction with the OI should be with as much empathy as can be reasonably afforded. Remember, other personnel will be watching how the OI is treated by management. Be careful of your own prejudgment. It will influence the tone and tenor of your interaction with the OI, and how it is seen by others. One of the most disconcerting aspects for an officer suspected of a crime and not yet fully adjudicated and stuck in limbo, is the accusatory, contemptuous, and isolationist stance assumed by some personnel - especially supervisors. The taint of suspicion and pre-judgement can linger, even if the OI is eventually cleared.
They (non-involved personnel) may see an overly accusatory, contemptuous, and/or skeptical approach as lacking the degree of respect and benefit of doubt they feel a fellow officer deserves professionally. It can feed a sense of alienation towards management by rank and file that can impact group cohesiveness long after the issue is resolved. In other words, until the facts are sorted out and an official position is established (suspension, arrest, dehired etc) it is a matter of doing what has to be done in a humane and respectful, yet impartial manner.
In cases where an OI is assigned to you while their official status is pending, make sure the OI’s performance is assessed strictly on how he or she meets departmental evaluation standards. The OI’s dilemma should not be the concern of other non-involved personnel, and do what you must to keep it that way
Watch for any OI efforts to garner sympathy or help from peers relating to his or her dilemma. Be aware of any fear or concern by others that sensitive or unusual circumstances implore “something” must be done to accommodate them. Anything done in that context greatly risks the integrity of, and the public trust in, the entire department.
You’ll want to keep others from being drawn into a situation of the OI’s own making (refer to sections on loyalty and friendship). Occasionally remind non-involvd personnel of the importance to remain just that; to avoid any drift of loyalty and friendship into inappropriate territory. Don’t assume everyone knows that. Any efforts by anyone to intercede on behalf of the OI, however well intended, should be monitored to ensure the integrity of the investigation and both the individual’s and the organization’s best interests.
The author, Arthur P. Meister, is a 38 year veteran of law enforcement. He retired from the FBI in 2002, after having served as Chief of the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, and the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (ViCAP), in Quantico, Virginia.