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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.

  1. Call in mileage. While many employing law enforcement agencies have a policy requiring law enforcers to call in the location and beginning/ending mileage anytime they do a transport (especially involving opposite sex subjects), some do not. Make it your own personal policy to do so. If dispatch won't accept such radio transmissions, keep a written record journal in your front seat in which to write the information.
  2. Document. Document. Document. I can't stress this one enough. There is a Fort Worth, TX, Police case heading to the United States Supreme Court dealing with excessive force in part because of the officers' failure to document. As the old saying in police work goes, if it isn't in the report, it didn't happen. When in doubt, scratch it out is another old saying in policing. Any situation that involves force, an exercise of your legal authority as a law enforcer, or other questionable incident should be written down in detail. That information may be crucial in your defense perhaps years later when your recollection of the events is faded. This is especially true of civil proceedings that tend to move through the court system at a slower pace than do criminal cases.
  3. Go to the tape. If your jurisdiction and agency policy permits, use recording devices to back up your written and oral version of events. While your recollection of the event may differ slightly from the taped version, even if given shortly thereafter, it should be substantially the same and showcase your good conduct as an ethical, professional officer acting within the bounds of the law and your agency policy. Actually, an identical rendition looks contrived and does not have the credibility that a slightly divergent version has.
  4. 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.

  5. Don't cowboy the call. While many officers and deputy sheriffs pride themselves on their abilities to handle calls by him or herself, don't wave off available back up so readily. Assuming that your jurisdiction is not so far flung that back up is not available, take advantage of having a friendly witness with you to back your truthful rendition of the events at a call for police service.
  6. Stay in plain sight. Many times, officers have to handle calls for police service without other officers being present and acting as backup and as witnesses. In those cases, it helps to stay in public view. While you may not want members of the public to hear what you are saying (unless it is loud, repetitive verbal commands reacting to a subject's actions and preceding a possible use of force), you certainly can have them see what you are doing and becoming your witnesses.
  7. 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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