The job of a police officer is to enforce the law and protect the public. However, when a police officer violates procedure, breaks the law or endangers public safety, a different set of procedures must be adhered to. Each police department decides how to handle the investigation and punishment of an officer independently, but they all share a few commonalities.
When a complaint has been lodged against a police officer, he receives written notice that a complaint has been filed and an investigation will be conducted. In New Jersey, police officers may be suspended if the complaint alleges serious misconduct, such as criminal charges or hazardous behavior on the job. Minnesota requires that officers receive a copy of the complaint with the signature of the citizen or officer making the complaint.
Once a complaint has been filed alleging that a police officer has violated the law or other police rules and regulations, an investigation is conducted. The purpose of the investigation is to determine the veracity of the allegations made against the police officer. Police departments in New Jersey, California and Florida have a separate division called Internal Affairs that handles investigations of police officers. During the investigation, officers may interview the person making the complaint as well as other witnesses or persons involved in the complaint.
When internal affairs officers complete the initial phase of an investigation, they must determine if the allegations are supported by evidence. Police departments in the United States have similar outcomes for investigations of police officers--sustained or not sustained, unfounded, exonerated and not involved. If evidence supports the allegations, internal affairs investigators must refer to the local prosecutor before making an arrest. A finding of not sustained or a request for a review of police procedure will be referred to the commanding officer.
If a police officer is found guilty of violating police policy or procedure, such as drinking on duty, her commanding officer will be responsible for punishment, which can include unpaid or indefinite suspension. An investigation that uncovers evidence of criminal activity is referred to the local prosecutor to determine punishment, which can range from no legal action to jail time or a suspension of police benefits. When evidence of a crime is uncovered, the officer's commanding officer will serve him with the charges and, if necessary, make the arrest.
Police departments in the United States have a near-universal requirement that the citizen or officer making the complaint be informed of the resolution in writing.
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