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Paul Clinton

Paul Clinton

As the POLICE Web editor, Paul Clinton contributes posts about patrol cars, motorcycles, and other police vehicles. He previously wrote about automotive electronics as managing editor of Mobile Electronics. Prior to that, he was an award-winning newspaper reporter.



William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.
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Your First Complaint

Don't panic, and keep your cool. You'll get through this with the right approach.

October 03, 2011  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

It's a great day on the beat. The birds are singing, and the sun is shining brightly. You're called in to the precinct and given the message—report to Internal Affairs! Holy smoke. Will I get fired? Will the bad guy get my house?

This has never happened to you. First of all, calm down. We've all had complaints filed against us. If you do your job, you'll get complaints. Even if you do it by the book, legal and squeaky clean, you'll rub somebody wrong, and they'll want to say their piece.

This is one of your first steps down the pathway of exiting rookiehood and entering Real Copland. Let's go over some the facts and fantasies about complaints, whether to the precinct sergeant or to IA. There are several truisms here to review. 

Refer to your rules and regulations for guidance. Understand the procedure and what the policy states about these irritable moments of life. If you have a union representative, benevolent group or a trusted senior officer, consult them immediately for advice and their counsel.

The vast majority of complaints are not career enders. Most of the time these blindsided complaints are simple ones. They are often categorized as a lack of communication leading to a misunderstanding or perceived rudeness in their eyes. If you've been involved in a critical incident, major use of force, ended up on the six o'clock news, or some other form of police merriment, then this was probably expected.

Don't panic or think that this person is going to get your home and car in a court-awarded lawsuit. I've never met a cop who lost his home to a bad guy. However, I know several who've lost perfectly good homes in divorces.

Settle down. If you have any idea who or what the complaint is about, start gathering reports, tickets, or notes. Was there a cover officer with you? Get your information and defense straight.

When you go to IA, be professional. The movie scenes of the renegade cop who stomps in, puts his feet on their desk and proclaims that they should "prove it" is bad movie acting. Go in and listen! Fully understand what has brought you in front of them.

Most importantly, don't lie! Don't think about tweakin' the truth or the facts. I've seen minor complaints get officers terminated due to slight misrepresentations of the truth. Lying equals unemployment.

When the interview is over, keep your mouth shut. I know the guys who are out there proclaiming of their brave journey into IA. They told IA this and that. Be careful, your bravado could haunt you. Sooner or later, your rants will work back to them. So, how did it happen Officer Motormouth? You said one thing to others in the locker room, and wrote another thing on the official statement. Which is the truth?

Finally, keep your cool. Don't go out and act out like some bad kid escaping the principal's office. How you receive discipline is often how you'll conduct yourself during the event. Stay professional and follow the advice of your counselors. You'll survive this and get back on with your life and career. Treat this as a learning experience and apply the rules. Here's the big secret—we've all have been to the office, it's part of the world of a cop.

Tags: Professional Image, Internal Investigations


Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

janet @ 10/7/2011 7:26 AM

That is very good advice. There is always two sides to every story.

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