Your client comes in and tells you a tale of woe from an interaction that happened the night before with law enforcement officers. It is not uncommon for people to have contact with law enforcement officials. The most visible and omnipresent manifestation of our government, local law enforcement officers are engaged in countless exchanges with members of the community every day. While the majority of those interactions are uneventful or otherwise are depictions of sound police practices, there are a few that fall out of the scope of accepted police procedures. But how do you know if your client has a good case or is their version just a case of sour grapes?
Enter the police expert. Harking back to the adage it's hard to find good help; it's tricky to find a police expert who has the proper mix of credentials that can help you evaluate the validity of your client's case involving law enforcement. While many say that they can tackle the job, you need to be sure they have the right mix of ingredients to bring to the table.
There are five things you should be examining as you ponder the retention of a police expert consultant and witness to assist you with the case: experience, education, training, publications, and media. It is rare that an expert is able to present a blend of all of those components. They are all necessary as the expert witness business is a serious undertaking with real consequences for the real people involved. Beyond the very important analysis of whether your client really has a viable beef with the cops, a good police expert with these five areas covered gives your client and your case credibility, impact, dynamic presentation, and the ability to explain complex issues in a simple manner.
ExperienceAn expert with varied experience enables a macro perspective and exposure variation. Ideally, you want your expert to have experience at different levels of policing including patrol officer and chief executive, as well as experience in divergent size agencies and varied roles within policing.
EducationDue to the complexity of the legal process and the need for skilled analysis and communications skills, a solid education within a regionally accredited college framework is essential. Certainly, bachelors and masters degrees should be required within the framework of your search for a competent police expert. Better still, a doctorate. As for areas of study, majors that encompass criminal justice, criminology, public administration, and education are clearly pertinent. Other degrees, management and business administration are also relevant.
TrainingBeyond the basic law enforcement academy, there is much variety in the training that law enforcers undertake. Your expert should be well versed in that training and how it should be conducted. An emphasis on high liability areas most likely to cross your desk certainly makes sense. One way to demonstrate expertise is for your expert to possess instructor certifications in areas such as Taser, ASP expandable baton, pepper spray (OC), firearms, Vehicle Operations/Driving, and defensive tactics/subject control.
PublicationsThe ideal expert should have a reputation for trying to improve the profession by writing for law enforcement industry publications going back a number of years. This long-established credibility within the field helps to bolster your case with a reputable and unbiased critical thinker of police matters. Among the wellknown police publications to look for are American Police Beat; Law and Order: The Magazine for Police Management; Officer.com; PoliceOne.com; Police Link.com; Police: The Law Officer's Magazine; and Sheriff Magazine.
MediaMost incidents involving allegations of police misconduct are not like having a plumber go afoul. They are often high profile events and your expert should be accustomed to dealing with the media. An expert's past experience with the media also yields a verifiable public track record and a built-in credibility ascribed to those who are sought out by the media.
Experienced media communicators have honed the skill of explaining complex issues in simple, understandable terms. That talent is sorely lacking in police experts who often talk as if recounting a jargon-laden, dry and long-winded police report. The ability to communicate is needed within the courtroom and deposition setting to support your case.
All of these five things help to portray your expert to the court, opposing counsel, and the public as having a verifiable track record and reputation of being balanced, credible, independent, and impartial. These five areas also help your expert to be able to do the meat and potatoes of what experts do -- conduct a thorough case file analysis evaluation, review and analysis, a document review and analysis, a police policies and practices review and analysis, prepare expert reports, provide litigation support, and give testimony at depositions, hearings, and trials.
With the five areas of credentials covered, you can be sure you have retained the most competent expert to support your efforts on behalf of your client.
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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