Statistics show that 87% of police agencies have fewer than 25 officers. Hard to believe, isn't it? Of these, the majority of smaller agencies have one officer assigned to internal investigations. The officer handles all complaints that are not handled by supervisors. This is a big responsibility. It puts not-so-obvious stresses on officers in that it is not a full-time position. They carry a workload in addition to the occasional internal investigation. These investigators work with each of their fellow officers on a daily basis. It is a not a pleasure to have to pull this duty in addition to what their responsibilities are on a daily basis. Furthermore, they have had little, if any training.
Large departments have internal affairs units, offices of professional standards, inspectors general, or units that are known by another name. It all equates to one thing--investigators assigned to conduct investigations into the actions of other officers. These units are normally assigned directly to the chief, sheriff, or director of a law enforcement agency. They are also assigned to detention centers. No matter the name assigned, the investigators are tasked with being the overseer of officer conduct.
What brought these units into being? Primarily, they grew from complaints from citizens about police officers' conduct or misconduct. To put it another way, some officers will not behave in accordance with policy and procedure.
What is misconduct?
It could mean simply a violation of policy and procedure or, in more serious cases, violations of criminal code. One can stretch the imagination and remember old cowboy movies where the sheriff would unmercifully beat a prisoner. Go back further and look at the Shire Reeves of old England, and those of the then-new world. The very structure of the environment cultivated abusive behavior or dishonesty to make a living. We still find actions such as those today.
What this comes down to, in one way or another, a law enforcement agency must hold its officers accountable for their actions, on duty and off. If they do not, the agencies are subject to sanctions by the court system and the public. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that public officials are held to a higher standard than the employees of private enterprise. The public is entitled to hold public officials accountable for their actions while they are employed as such. This means all public employees, not just police officers. Internal affairs investigations often involve allegations of misbehavior by public officials other than cops.
So, we come to the question again, "Why IA?" Investigations into allegations of misconduct by officers are a highly specialized detail. The rights of the accused, complainants and victims, other employees, and witnesses are to be protected. Each of these has separate and equal rights. These also have been laid out in detail by not only the court system but, by merit systems, personnel boards, unions, and a myriad of attorneys.
That is the reason for internal affairs investigators. Put yourself in the shoes of an accused employee. Who would you rather have investigating an allegation against you--an untrained investigator has no knowledge of employee rights, or a professional, highly trained investigator? Internal affairs is more than police officers in expensive suits grilling an officer about their involvement in an incident. These investigators should be highly trained, with all the tools they need to accomplish the mission they are assigned.
Traditionally, internal affairs investigators are assigned for a short time (career-wise), normally two or three years. Comparatively speaking, the turnover rate is high, compared to other divisions. Therefore, they do not take the time to learn the law, rules, and procedures of working cases with a clear direction in mind. That direction should always be the truth--nothing less. Although few relish the idea of working these cases, there are a lot of dedicated professionals who desire to continue in IA. These are the ones command staff should retain at any cost.