By Dr. Chuck Russo, program director of Criminal Justice at American Military University
Internal affairs investigations can be delicate matters, with much at stake for individual officers as well as the reputation of the agency. Agencies owe it to themselves, their officers, and their communities to conduct a professional, fair, and unbiased internal affairs investigation each and every time. However, many agencies are forced to take a haphazard approach due to a lack of resources within their full-time staff.
When an internal affairs investigation is required, it is generally assigned to a patrol or administrative sergeant or lieutenant with other duties and responsibilities, an investigator or detective trained and experienced in investigating criminal cases, or a member of the agency administration who must conduct the investigation while performing other various duties and responsibilities. In addition to needing to balance existing and new responsibilities, this person often has personal and professional conflicts with the accused officer.
It is critical that agencies properly train an individual as an internal affairs investigator and have them dedicated to this function. To meet this standard, agencies should consider their reserve personnel.
Why Do Agencies Have Reserve Officers?
There are more than 15,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States with fewer than 100 sworn personnel. In order to meet community needs, many departments have turned to reserve or part-time officers to complement full-time sworn personnel.
Reserve personnel often come to an agency following a rewarding career at another agency. These officers often have years of advanced training; some are decorated investigators, proven agency managers, and/or experienced road officers who want to stay involved in law enforcement.
While it is common for reserve officers to work road positions, it is not common for them to serve in administration roles. I would argue that in many cases these individuals have both the experience and the ability to effectively fill the role as a trained part-time internal affairs investigator.
Why Reserve Personnel Make Good Internal Affairs Investigators
One direct benefit of having reserve officers serve as internal affairs investigators is that their livelihood is not tied directly to the agency. They generally do not rely on the agency paycheck or benefits to sustain them or their family. Therefore, they are likely to be less influenced by political pressures and hidden agendas and may be viewed as less biased by both the officers and the community at large. The internal affairs investigator has nothing to gain or lose by conducting the investigation—their only agenda is as the finder of fact.
Proper training in internal affairs investigations is vitally important. Just as there are intricate rules and procedures that must be followed while conducting a criminal investigation, there are a set of rules for an internal investigation. These rules and procedures differ on many key points and, if violated, could jeopardize the entire internal affairs investigation and the reputation of the agency.
There will be times when there are not ongoing internal affairs investigations. This reserve officer can also conduct background investigations for the agency, further reducing the workload placed on the full-time agency staff.
Reserve officers are valuable resources for an agency. Using them for internal affairs investigations is one way that law enforcement leaders ensure that these officers are being used effectively.
About the Author: Dr. Chuck Russo is the Program Director of Criminal Justice at American Military University (AMU). He began his career in law enforcement in 1987 in Central Florida and was involved all areas of patrol, training, special operations and investigations before retiring from law enforcement in 2013. Dr. Russo continues to design and instruct courses, as well as act as a consultant for education, government and industry throughout the United States and the Middle East. His recent research and presentations focus on emerging technology and law enforcement applications, in addition to post-traumatic stress and online learning.