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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 © 2018  Barry M. Baker  
CareerPoliceOfficer.com
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