Allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct and excessive force have been the staple of sensational headlines and are made of the stuff that can be career ending even when proven untrue. While this article and writer absolutely condemn any kind of unethical or illegal sexually based conduct or excessive force by professional law enforcement personnel, some false claim situations do occur. Even more important, those false claims hurt the true victims whose claims are called into question.
As veterans of the law enforcement field know, some allegations of excessive force and sexual conduct by officers are made by those hoping to gain a bargaining chip in their criminal case, looking for a pay day from the deep pockets of the employing jurisdiction, or generally want to "get back" at law enforcement. Assuming that the allegations themselves have no merit, many of those issues could be avoided if the crime fighter took certain steps to protect themselves and their employing agency. This article serves as a reminder to veterans and a primer for younger colleagues.
Video tape, or to a lesser degree audio tape, gives you an additional layer of protection, often in the form of dashcams. I believe that the introduction of dashcam video has actually exonerated more officers after a complaint was filed than has hurt them. If your agency doesn't officially use video or audio, check to see if it would be within policy to have a personal pocket audio recorder. Assuming it is legal and permissible, catalog those tapes and keep them in a secure location in the event you may need them years after an arrest or other incident.
Avoid closing a door or moving behind a wall as those situations lend themselves to allegations of bad officer conduct. Proper positioning of a victim, witness, or suspect so they can't see others, but you still can and they you, is how to create "privacy" to get information from a reluctant person while still remaining in plain view.
Of course, the best protection is not to engage in any unethical, unprofessional, or illegal conduct. You should also be thoroughly familiar with the laws of your jurisdiction and the policies of your agency. Even with the best of intentions, "stuff" happens in police work. These five tips should help you to stay within the boundaries and offer an extra layer of protection on top of your admirable service to the community.
Dr. Richard Weinblatt is a proven communicator who, since 1989, has excelled at explaining Complex Law Enforcement Issues. Formerly a criminal justice professor, police academy director, and Police Chief, Dr. Weinblatt has been called on by national and local media, lawyers, police trade publication editors, and others to share his expertise on controversial policing issues.
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