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One of the worst things you can do as a
police officer is to jump to a conclusion
based on initial information you receive or
even your initial eyeball observation of a
particular situation or incident.  Since
things are rarely ever the way as they
first appear, this is good advice, and
you'd think that most police officers have
this acquired skill down pat.  
Well...maybe not most, but many don't.  
If you ever find yourself being accused of
some wrongdoing, you'll find yourself
surrounded by police jumping to
conclusions all over the place.  This really
isn't a knew phenomenon.  Police have
always been their own most severe
critics...not of themselves, but of each
other.

As a police officer, you've got to train
yourself to put facts ahead of everything
else...not just facts you like, but all the
facts.  As long as you chase facts, only
facts, and -- most importantly -- all the
facts, you'll never go wrong.  
Unfortunately, you might well find
yourself working for supervisors,
commanders, or others investigating
your actions who have a difficult time
with facts which interfere with their
preconceived conclusions.

I was a police sergeant when this
example of stupidity, prejudice, and
incompetence occurred involving two
female police officers under my
supervision.

The first officer responded to a call for a
suspect believed to be armed with a
gun.  She observed a suspect fitting the
description, and a foot chase ensued.  
Moments later, the second female officer
was assigned to a second, unrelated,
emergency call in the same general area.

The first officer lost sight of the armed
suspect, and she was returning to her
vehicle to continue her search when she
observed the second officer responding
to her call.  The second officer had her
roof lights activated as she attempted to
pass a vehicle which she believed had
yielded the right of way by moving to the
right.  However, as she attempted to
pass, the vehicle moved back, and a
collision occurred.  Both the police car
and the civilian car were moving at slow
speeds resulting in minimal property
damage and no physical injuries.

I responded to the scene where I quickly
collected all the facts pertaining to the
circumstances of both incidents.  Both
officers explained that the civilian vehicle
did appear, by its movement, to yield to
the police vehicle.  The department
classified departmental vehicle accidents
into two categories...preventable and
non-preventable.  I quickly gave the bad
news to both officers that this accident
would undoubtedly be determined
"preventable."  Both officers simply
nodded as if to say, "Yea, we know."

Since a departmental vehicle was
involved, the accident would be
investigated by an "expert."  A member
of the department's Traffic Investigation
Section responded.  I saw the officer
arrive and approach the female officer
involved in the accident.  I walked over to
the officers where I introduced myself,
and I told the investigator that I would
be available to him if he needed to clarify
any information.  The investigator replied,
"Thanks, Sarge...I got it."  I left the
scene shortly thereafter since it appeared
I wasn't needed.  After all, it
wasn't a complicated situation.

Two weeks passed when the official
notification of disciplinary action came
down for the female officer involved in
the accident.  The accident was
determined to be preventable with the
standard disciplinary action for an
accident of its type.  As I reviewed that
packet, I came to the "Investigator's
Summary."  Now, I'd seen some real crap
written by police officers, but this guy's
load of nonsense was some of the worst
I'd ever seen.  

The full, single page summary barely
addressed any details of the accident.  It
went into extensive detail describing why
the witnessing officer's account was "not
credible."  The investigator explained that
since the witnessing officer was engaged
in a foot chase of an armed suspect, she
would have had to stop and turn around
at a precise instant in order to witness
the accident.  While the investigator had
every means to establish the facts of the
two unrelated incidents, it turned out
that he didn't choose to use any of those
information sources available to him.
As you ponder your decision to become a
police officer, you should understand that
there are few other careers where you'd
be exposed to such a wide array of
situations and circumstances that could
result in some kind of disciplinary action
being taken against you.  You should
also realize that the disciplinary
processes of many police departments
are corrupt, misused, arbitrary, and
incoherent.
However, this story doesn't end here.  
Several months later, the witnessing
officer in the example was, herself,
involved in a minor departmental traffic
accident.  Can you guess who was
assigned to investigate the accident?  
This time, however, the investigator
comported himself as a true
professional.  His polite and respectful
demeanor toward the officer repaired the
previous damage; even though, no
words were exchanged regarding the
previous debacle.  The investigator's
subsequent finding of "non-preventable"
helped as well.

...presumption of innocence and
reasonable doubt

I know you're already familiar with the
terms "presumption of innocence" and
"reasonable doubt" associated with the
criminal justice system.  When it comes
to police administrative disciplinary
processes, no such pretenses exist.  If
you become a target of your
department's disciplinary process, you'll
be faced with a presumption of guilt and
a preponderance of evidence.  While the
presumption of guilt is easy to
understand, the preponderance of
evidence is a difficult concept for some.  
Preponderance of evidence simply means
that only the barest amount of evidence
needs to be developed to indicate that
you're probably guilty of the allegation
against you.

The preponderance of evidence standard
is not a bad thing.  As long as evidence is
not contrived or fabricated, it's an
efficient and sensible way to maintain a
high level of discipline within a police
department.  If your police department
demands a high level of integrity from
everyone, including those administering
the disciplinary process, you'll find
yourself exposed to a structured and
relatively problem free disciplinary
environment.

On the other hand...you could find
yourself working in a police department
where the corrupt and arbitrary
administration of the disciplinary process
can create a very unpleasant working
environment.  While the disciplinary
process of every police department is
subject to the negative influences of
politics and favoritism, some are far
worse than others.

The best way for you to avoid becoming
a victim of your department's disciplinary
process is to simply follow the rules.  
While you could well experience
disciplinary actions for minor violations by
virtue of your imperfect nature as a
human being, the more serious, and
career threatening, violations can be
easily avoided.  If you do find yourself
working in a police department where the
disciplinary process is continually
compromised for the benefit of some to
the detriment of others, you'll have to be
careful and always prepared to logically
and coherently articulate your actions for
everything you do.
I learned that the only substantive
conversation he had with the officer, who
was involved in the accident, was during
their initial contact when he simply stated
to her, "I figured it would be a woman."  
The only interviews he conducted were
with the operator and occupant of the
civilian vehicle.  As far as the witnessing
officer was concerned, he showed
absolutely no interest in her observation
of the accident.  The investigator had
obviously drawn his conclusions on two
circumstances:  First, the operator of the
police vehicle was a woman.  Second, he
thought she was responding to back up
the witnessing officer who was chasing
an armed suspect; hence, his ridiculous
assassination of the witnessing officer's
credibility.
...big black hole

You'll come to learn that every police
department has a means to deal with
every circumstance when those who are
charged with applying the disciplinary
processes are themselves caught in
wrongdoing.  It's a big black hole that
sucks in all the facts so that those facts
will never again see the light of day.  In
the example I've just described, my
subsequent report detailing all the facts
and exposing the "bias" and "gross
incompetence" displayed by the
investigator was quickly sucked into that
hole.  The good thing about those black
holes is that they suck in everything.  
The disciplinary action against my officer
disappeared, along with my report, never
to be seen or spoken of again.
"You should also realize that the
disciplinary processes of many police
departments are corrupt, misused,
arbitrary, and incoherent."
~ Barry M. Baker
Disciplinary
Processes
Copyright © 2016  Barry M. Baker  
CareerPoliceOfficer.com
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