CAN I VENT
By Stacy Ford
PROBATION DEPARTMENT INTERNAL AFFAIRS UNIT
Internal Affairs refers to a division within a law enforcement agency (Probation) that investigates incidents and possible suspicions of law breaking, policy, and or procedure violations and professional misconduct attributed to Officers within the Probation Department.
When a complaint is filed against an Officer, and that complaint rises to the level where Internal Affairs becomes involved. The Officer is then notified by the Department that he or she is under investigation. At that time, the Officer notifies the Union (Local 685) of the investigation. Internal Affairs investigators then schedule an investigative interview with that Officer and his/her Union representative. Usually this interview is held at Downey Headquarters; however, sometimes this interview is held at the Officer’s work location.
Under Weingarten Rights
, Internal Affairs investigators and Union representatives have guidelines that they must follow during this investigation interview. If you are a Union member, you have a right to have Union representation at ANY investigative interview and or meeting that you feel could lead to disciplinary action against you. The Supreme Court case of National Labor Relations Board v. Weingarten decided in 1975, established this basic entitlement and the procedures for when and how Union reps may participate in investigative interviews. The role of the Union rep in the investigative interview is to be present to assist the employee. For example, as a rep I can clarify the facts, provide additional information, and suggest possible witnesses.
Under the Peace Officer’s Bill of Rights
, Internal Affairs investigators and Union representatives have guidelines that they must also follow during this investigation. These guidelines include, but are not limited to, the following:
- The investigators must schedule the interview while the Officer is on duty;
- They investigators must provide the nature of the interview before the actual interview date;
- During the interview, the investigators must allow the Officer to tend to his or her personal needs (restroom, water, etc.);
- The Union rep must be reasonably available and has the right to speak and to object and clarify during the investigative interview; and
- The rep has to have reasonable knowledge of how the investigative interview process works, including reasonable knowledge of policy, procedures, rules, regulations, County policy, and Title 15 guidelines as they relate to the Probation Department.
As you can see, both the Union reps and Internal Affairs investigators have guidelines that they must follow. As your Union reps, our job in the investigative interview is to make sure none of your rights are violated.
It is my understanding that Internal Affairs investigators are Officers (DPO ll – Supervisors) with integrity, meaning they have the quality of being honest and having STRONG MORAL PRINCIPALS and moral uprightness. These folks are trustworthy and will do the right thing.
Over the years, I have seen Internal Affairs investigators come and go. Some of these folks had integrity while others did not. I believe that during the past three years the integrity of our Internal Affairs investigators, their leadership at the top, and the unit as a whole has been tested. Some may suggest that they have failed the test.
Let me be clear: I am not speaking of all investigators in Internal Affairs. Some of these folks do an outstanding job. However, there are some who are currently there, and they know who they are, who NEED TO GO! These individuals are disrespectful to our members, and they will do whatever it takes to substantiate their cases. Let me show you what I am talking about.
Walk with me through an investigative interview. We are in a room. The investigators are on one side of the table, usually two of them. The Officer and the Union rep are on the other side of the table. In the center of the table is a recording device that belongs to the investigators. Sometimes there is a laptop to show video of the situation.
We go through the meet and greet. The Officer is given two directives to review. One directive is on cooperating with the investigation and the other directive is on being truthful. The Officer is also given another document that is administrative rights, which includes the allegations. Here is the part I want to talk about: The investigators will say, “We are fact finders. We are here to ask you questions regarding the allegations. This is not a trial or hearing.” The questions are centered around the allegation.
For example, let’s say the allegation is unprofessional conduct, where it is alleged that the Officer pushed the youth into the wall because the Officer was struck in the face. During this altercation, the youth got hurt and needed a trip to the hospital for a bruise to the side of his face. During fact finding, the investigator asks the Officer, “How did the youth get hurt?” The Officer responds, “The youth hit me in my face, and I pushed him away from me and his face hit the wall. When I pushed the youth into the wall, the impact of the youth making contact to the wall caused the injury to the right side of the youth face.” The next series of questions will be why was it necessary to push the youth into the wall?
There will be no questions about the youth striking the Officer in the face. The following questions will second guess the Officer’s response to getting hit in the face but will focus only on the actions by the Officer. There is no regard given to the Officer for protecting himself. The emphasis is only on the youth and his injury; not the fact that the Officer was attacked.
Approximately 10 months after that investigation the Officer receives discipline. In this case, the Officer gets fired because the youth got hurt in this incident. No regard given to the Officer who was only trying to survive and stay safe and keep the youth safe.
A lot of times the questions are biased. The questions are structured in a way that supports the allegation. For example, the investigator may ask, is it fair to say you used an unauthorized technique when you pushed the youth into the wall?” The Officer’s response may be, “I had to push the youth; I was under attack.” The investigator will come back with, “But by pushing the youth into the wall, was that an authorized technique yes or no?” Of course, the Officer’s answer is NO. It is not an authorized technique. “However, I was attacked.” Then the investigator will get into what I call the “whys.”
- Why didn’t you call for back up?
- Why didn’t you call a supervisor?
- Why didn’t you use other techniques etc.?
If the investigators were fact finders, it seems to me that they would consider all the facts and not just the facts that support the allegation. In the example above, the Officer pushed the youth away from him to create space after he was struck in his face.
I have represented Officers in the investigative interviews where I had to interrupt and ask the investigator, “Did you hear what my client said? He told you he was assaulted by the youth and you are overlooking that fact as if it’s irrelevant.”
Fact finding is gathering all the facts that tell all of what happen, not just one side. This is not a trial or hearing. That statement is true. However, with some of these investigators, and they know who they are, it is a trial and hearing. The Officer is guilty as soon as he or she steps into the room. Over the past three years, I have seen so many Officers get fired or received B/S levels of discipline where some of the discipline should have been a corrective action.
I understand the investigators have a job to do and were given marching orders from the top. I get that. But when we talk about having integrity one would think one would do the right thing no matter what. Over these three years, some of these investigators went over and beyond what was necessary to substantiate their cases.
Case in point:
One investigator in particular scheduled an investigative interview at 1pm. We arrived at 12:30 and the Officer and I waited and waited. At 2pm the investigator came out to tell us not to leave. At 3:30 we finally went into the interview. That investigator went head on with the Officer from the time we started the interview until we abruptly walked out. The Officer was denied the opportunity to get water and use the restroom. The Officer was constantly yelled at and told he better answer all questions. There was no air conditioning in the interview room so the room itself was at least 80 degrees with the door shut. We requested to move to another room; we were denied. It was near 6pm and we had enough of this mistreatment by this investigator and we walked out. As we walked out, the Officer was then threatened to be put in jail. I told the investigator that we were still walking out and that we did.
This is just one example of a loose cannon in Internal Affairs that to this day feels he/she is untouchable. When our members have to be interviewed by this individual, going in it is a trial and hearing and the Officer is guilty. When the Union attorney reported this conduct to the Department, management supported this fool.
A youth assaults an Officer. That youth and another Officer gets into a restraint and the Officer and youth are on the floor. The youth has the advantage over the Officer (mid 50s) and the Officer hits his head on the floor. For 20 seconds or so, that Officer is dazed. Meanwhile, another Officer is speaking with the youth. When the dazed Officer regains consciousness, he then continues to execute the plan to get the youth into his room. The investigator disregarded the fact that the youth assaulted an Officer and focused on why the dazed Officer continues to execute the plan in getting the youth into his room.
These are just examples of how some investigators will do whatever it takes to promote to a higher position and give no regard to the Officers they are hurting in the process. I have come in contact with members who used to work in Internal Affairs who stated they left the unit because they couldn’t sleep at night. They left the unit because what they were told to do to our members they could no longer do. I was told there were cases that were not substantiated by some investigators but were ordered to substantiate those case any way.
How do we fix Internal Affairs?
- Get rid of the few investigators who are there who don’t follow the guidelines, the ones who will sell their soul to the devil for a win.
- Get rid of management who protects the investigators who violate the guidelines – Peace Officer Bill of Rights and Weingarten Rights. Just get rid of them!
- Replace those individuals with folks who have integrity and will do the right thing.
- Don’t hire anyone else to be an investigator who has a known record of not having any integrity.
- Stop filling positions with folks who come from other areas in the County who know nothing about Internal Affairs.
Stand by for part two PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT:
We need to run a tractor though performance management and get rid of all the trash.
Clean it up!