FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
I'm a police officer on the East Coast. I'm writing because I've watched a really bad situation unfold with a coworker over the course of almost four years. In early 2003, he was accused of wrongdoing and subsequently terminated after an Internal Affairs (IA) investigation. The problem is, I really believe he was treated unfairly in the process, and I'm wondering what advice, if any, I can give him. He managed to get his job back in short order because the agency made a big mistake by thinking he was on probation when he wasn't. However, he then was accused of lying during the investigation and was placed on administrative leave pending termination. He fought that charge successfully by presenting evidence to the director and got placed back into regular patrol duties near the end of 2003.
You're probably thinking he should be feeling pretty good about fighting the system and winning his job back, but he's still really angry and bitter. The way he sees it, he was falsely accused and his career jeopardized. He lost the opportunity for overtime while on administrative leave, and he racked up close to $30,000 in legal fees while defending himself. He wants his reputation back, and he wants the money he spent defending himself. He even went to the trouble of filing a formal complaint with the Office of Professional Responsibility and making requests under the Freedom of Information act, but his complaint just got filed for informational purposes. He also feels the agency should have formally apologized after he was reinstated and thinks the investigators should be held responsible for their shoddy work. After all, we're held to a high ethical standard and have a code of conduct what about the place we work for?
It's been quite a while now and he can't seem to put this behind him. He's talked about trying to get the media involved and maybe even filing some kind of lawsuit, but I'm not sure either of these will do any good. There was a time when this guy loved coming to work and being a cop; now he can't seem to forget what the department did to him, and it's affecting his attitude. What do you think?
Friend of IA Victim
Dear Friend :
Holy cow, my editors are crawling all over me because I'm about to miss the deadline on this one. I'm having some sort of writer's block. Well, that's not really true. What's really going on is that I just cannot get over how far your friend's head is jammed up his own rear end.
I'll start by tap dancing on him for a while. His first screwup was that he landed in IA in the first place. You didn't give me the details of the original investigation, and quite frankly, I don't want them any more than I want to be mule-kicked in the face. The fact remains, though, he did end up in IA. It sounds like that investigation led to a second investigation about lying. I don't know if he lied or not, but I do know it's extremely difficult to prove that allegation, and a lot of half-truths and misunderstandings end up as the labels used to cover lies. There no place for lies or liars in our profession under any label.
OK, so now your friend is back to work, pissed that he had to pay for his own lawyer. Last time I was in court and lost a case no, it doesn't happen often, but even Bullethead stumbled in the early years I'm positive that neither the state, county or city sat down and cut a check to cover the defense lawyer. Why does your friend think your agency should pay for his lawyer? I'll tell you why: Because he's a self-righteous jackass who forgot the rules apply to everyone, including cops, and that they apply even more to cops because of the power we are given.
Let's move on to the investigation. I'm not here to defend the Rat Squad, but IA is an extremely important part of our profession even if none of us really like it. Mostly they educate young cops about the correct way to police. And yes, these cops end up with days on the beach, written reprimands and all sorts of other stuff, but they still have jobs and usually come out of it with a better understanding of what their department is looking for in terms of policing and conduct. The rest of the time, IA deals with serious and even criminal investigations that may lead to termination.
Statistics show IA investigators experience nearly as much stress as the cops who investigate crimes against children. This isn't some Bullethead BS either; I got the info from the good people at the Force Science Research Center. Does this mean it's OK for IA investigators to screw up? Absolutely not. The funny thing is, every time some cop beats an IA investigation, the first thing they do is throw down the investigators as morons who couldn't investigate their way out of a lit closet.
In his case, IA had evidence about lying, your friend had other evidence about not lying and the higher authority went with your friend's side. Good for him, and I certainly hope it wasn't one of those cases where the lies were hidden under some other label. Either way, if your friend is not happy with having his job back (which should be enough), he needs to change targets. Filing administrative complaints to get his defense money back is going to be about as effective as using a slingshot against a battleship.
You may detect a note of suspicion in my response. If you do, it's because I'm just not sure your friend is innocent. If he was, I think he would go after the IA investigator himself, not the department for some money. If the investigation was truly incompetent, he should file a complaint directly against the investigator and their supervisor for dereliction of duty. I'm not sure exactly how your department works, but I do know the feds have plenty of investigative bodies and all sorts of agencies looking over the shoulders of other agencies, so I'm sure you can locate someone to deal with your complaint if your own agency won't revisit it.
If your friend decides to do this, he should first make damn sure he is as clean as the hole a Match .308 round makes as it snaps through the X ring. If outsiders come in to investigate the department, they will look so far up your friend's rear end that they will probably find his head. They might help him remove it, or they might roll him right out with it still lodged up there.
Tell your friend that if he signed up in law enforcement for the money, he's a complete fool. The missed opportunity for OT and the defense-cost arguments aren't worth making he will get nowhere.
No one cares. I suppose you care, although I think this whole friend thing is sort of like one of those my friend had a moped and they told me it was fun to ride stories. (You know, where the storyteller actually owns the moped but is too embarrassed to admit it.) I've had a reasonable amount of contact with the media, and I doubt they would even pick this up as a story. Sour grapes and misplaced anger do not equal news. Tell your friend to start doing his job and doing it well, get over the money and move on. If he dwells on this and can't get past it, he will live miserably and die young from the internal stress.
Got a question or complaint?
Let Bullethead hear about it. He ll give you his opinion with both barrels.
E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
or fax him at 619/699-6246.