Police and Law Enforcement News
Wednesday, April 25, 2012 7:42 p.m.
Last week, the New
Jersey State Comptroller issued a report which found that internal
affairs investigations are dragged out unnecessarily.
We could not agree
report was based on their investigation of the New Jersey State Police
Office of Professional Standards, but the truth is that this problem
goes far beyond the State Police.
And it is absolutely
Being the target of
an internal affairs investigation - especially one of a high profile
nature - can be one of the most stressful experiences a law enforcement
officer can face.
But it comes with the
job, and we accept it.
What we cannot accept
is a system which makes officers twist in the wind while the file
containing the investigation and the officer's fate sits idle on a
Our beef is not with
the function: it is with the process. It is with a complaint about
officer demeanor that takes months to investigate. It is with a
use-of-force complaint that gets sent up to the prosecutor's office or
Attorney General's Office and sits for a year.
Ironically, the only
call for expeditious investigations comes from the Internal Affairs
Policy which was set up to investigate us in the first place.
Dubbed the 45-Day
Rule, it reads, "disciplinary charges alleging a violation of the
agency’s rules and regulations must be filed within 45 days of the date
the person filing the charge obtained sufficient information to file the
While it is a good
start, it is not enough. The section that reads, "of the date the
person filing the charge obtained sufficient information to file the
charge" leaves too much room for interpretation and circumvention.
And when the case
goes up to a higher agency, the delay is often worse.
offices will hold on to cases for months, even a year before they render
While this may
sometimes be strategic, especially with higher profile cases, it happens
much too often and with cases of all shapes and sizes.
To leave an officer
dangling in internal affairs purgatory for months is not fair and not
What makes matters
worse is the fact that most officers are innocent of the charges filed
Whether the public
wants to accept it or not, it is a fact that most complaints against
officers are without merit or are a result of a misunderstanding of
officers' powers. (Yes, we can order you to get back into the car, yes,
we can prevent you from interfering with the arrest of your cousin, and
yes, we can punch someone in the face when they punch us first)
But whether the
officer is innocent or not is not the issue. Our system calls for all
to be treated fairly and equally.
We understand that
delays are not always avoidable as we mentioned with higher profile
cases. But these incidents are the minority. Most of the time
these cases get backburnered for other projects or delayed by an
investigator procrastinating an uncomfortable encounter with either the
officer or the complainant.
We hear time and time
again how important the citizen complaint process is for maintaining the
integrity of law enforcement. We agree, but the officers must have
rights and protections too.
At the end of the
day, it's about due process. If you're going to charge us, charge us.
If not, cut the case loose.
Everyone would agree that the
quicker that a complaint gets properly investigated and settled, the
better it is for all involved.
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