||FIVE ISSUES THAT MIGHT PROTECT YOUR AGENCY FROM A ‘FERGUSON’

FIVE ISSUES THAT MIGHT PROTECT YOUR AGENCY FROM A ‘FERGUSON’

Far too much criticism has been hurled at the police and far too little understanding of the difficulties of the police work prevails. This criticism and lack of understanding has resulted in alienating the police from the public, so that they go about their work with scant consideration of the public just as would any other group of people who were criticized unintelligently. At the present time when strenuous efforts are being made by many police departments to increase their efficiency, it is ungracious to dwell on the inefficiency of the police in general. – Sutherland, “Criminology,” 1924

In America, on the other hand, the student of police travels from one political squabble to another, too often from one scandal to another. He finds a shifting leadership of mediocre caliber – varied now and then by flashes of real ability which (sic) are snuffed out when the political wheel turns. There is little conception of policing as a profession or a science to be matured and developed. It is a job, held perhaps by the grace of some mysterious political influence, and conducted in and atmosphere sordid and unhealthy. It is a treadmill, worked without imagination or aim, and with little incentive except the desire to keep out of trouble…We have, indeed, little to be proud of. It cannot be denied that our achievement in respect to policing is sordid and unworthy. With all allowance for the peculiar conditions which make out task so difficult, we have made a poor job of it. – Fosdick, “American Police Systems,” 1915

And here we are now, nearly 100 years later, with Ferguson and similar accusations from a wide range of public and political fronts. It appears the outcry may have legs. Local and national study commissions are being proposed. What we do will be closely scrutinized.

Now is the time each law enforcement agency should take stock of critical areas and determine whether there is room for improvement, need for corrective actions, or a sense that you’re reasonably secure. There are five (5) specific areas you need to assess to ensure your comfort:

  • Protocol for handling force investigations, specifically officer-involved-shootings

  • IA/OPS quality control

  • PIO capability

  • Community policing and other outreach efforts

  • Recruitment strategy

Is your agency prepared to handle a major force or shooting? It’s too late to put together a protocol after the incident happens. You will fail and be made to look foolish! Consider the dichotomy that’s occurred in the past few weeks. Some force incidents have occurred and there has been no turmoil in those communities. While other agencies have created their own problems with botched up investigations or prematurely ruled the incident as in policy without a good grasp of the facts. These latter ones are on the front page and on the local TV news. What has yet to be challenged, other than during civil lawsuits or a federal investigation, has been our administrative review of these types of controversial incidents. Can you reasonably support your analytical decisions? If you have no formal review process, stand by for deserved criticism. We all will have to become more transparent in this review.

Is your PIO (Public Information Officer) prepared for this type of critical incident? Most agencies are so small that this is left for the Chief or Sheriff or some other randomly selected person. It’s too important a function not to have someone selected and trained to handle this task without embarrassing or creating mistakes that will come back and haunt your agency later. Avoid at all costs a premature pronouncement without supportive facts.

Positive community outreach, even if it’s not officially referred to as Community Policing, will garner your agency that valuable commodity often called ‘social capital.’ It’s that bank account with your community that you can go to during troubled times. Too many agencies rely on special officers or programs. The best source of social capital, however, comes from your officers on the beat and investigators who regularly contact your crime victims. Field officers need to get out of the cars and walk and talk and put away those cellphones. Investigators need to spend more time out in the community and less time on the telephone. Social capital is developed from a one-on-one relationship between community members and your employees.

And lastly, does your agency have a recruitment strategy?  Matt Dolan of PATC emphasizes this need.  Many people are pointing an accusatory finger at us and noticing that few police agencies are ethnically representative of the community being served and that most officers don’t even live in the community being protected.  Even those agencies that are aggressively pursuing minority recruits are having trouble achieving reasonable numbers.  It is a difficult, daunting task.  The only salvation your agency may have is to have a reasonable strategy that lays out your efforts, even though they may not be working.

_____________________

Note:  Court holdings can vary significantly between jurisdictions.  As such, it is advisable to seek the advice of a local prosecutor or legal adviser regarding questions on specific cases.  This article is not intended to constitute legal advice on a specific case.

By |2018-07-09T20:55:17+00:00December 15th, 2014|Legal updates|

About the Author:

Lou Reiter currently is a police consultant. He offers three (3) separate professional services to the law enforcement community. He provides training to police groups in the high liability areas of use of force, emergency vehicle operations, high risk operations, investigations of citizen complaints, Internal Affairs procedures, investigation of critical incidents, and liability management. Each year, Lou conducts an average of 5-10 agency management audits and liability assessments. These have been for state, county and municipal police operations. The size of these agencies has been from 3 persons to 39,000 employees. These audits allow him to be in police cars up to 100 hours each year. He has been a consultant on 8 U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section, investigations of agencies involving patterns and practices of Constitutional violations. He was selected as a Federal Court monitor for the Consent Decree of Colln v. Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, CA. Lou provides litigation consultation to attorney firms involved in police civil actions. Since 1983, Lou has been retained in over 950 such cases in nearly every state plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. This has been on both sides of the table with approximately 60 percent being for plaintiffs. Lou Reiter was a member of the Los Angeles Police Department from 1961 to 1981. During that tenure he had 22 different assignments and rose through to ranks to retire as Deputy Chief of Police. About 70 percent of his time was spent in uniformed operations while the bulk of the remainder was in Internal Affairs, use of force review, training and personnel administration. Lou has been published throughout his professional career. He was one of the principle researchers and authors of the 1973 Police Task Force Report of the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Standards and Goals, where he authored the chapters on Internal Discipline, Training and Management-Employee Relations. In 1993 he authored and published the Law Enforcement Administrative Investigations a Supervisory and Agency Guide to handling citizen complaints of misconduct, conducting administrative investigations, managing the Internal Affairs Function, and creating reasonable and defensible discipline.