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The role of internal affairs in police training.

What can police departments do to prevent incidents of police misconduct that could expose them to local, or even national, media attention? Quite possibly, the answer may be found in an agency's internal affairs unit. Unfortunately, many police departments view their internal affairs units solely as administrative enforcers of departmental rules and regulations. And, even though the unit's primary function is to investigate allegations of police misconduct, many chiefs of police fail to recognize the potentially immense training value of this function.

This article discusses internal affairs investigations and explores some of the opportunities that various types of internal affairs training could provide. Because the resolution of a complaint against a police department and its employees could have a negative effect, law enforcement agencies should examine how the results of internal affairs investigations could help their employees to better serve the department and citizens.

Internal Affairs Investigations

Properly conducted internal affairs investigations go beyond a finding of right or wrong, or one that is justified or not justified. They also include comprehensive and ongoing reviews of the affected policy to ensure that it conforms to contemporary law enforcement standards, court rulings, and current agency needs. However, a comprehensive internal affairs investigation may also include a review of the department's training procedures regarding matters under investigation. For example, officer misconduct often results from a lack of knowledge or a misunderstanding of departmental policy and/or procedure. Supplemental training could reduce or possibly eliminate further incidents among other officers in the department.

The internal affairs unit is also an important resource to identify trends in individual and group behavior and attitudes. Oftentimes, as in a puzzle, an individual case or part has little or no meaning. However, once several components are viewed together, a clearer picture appears. In this regard, internal affairs units should consider conducting an annual analysis of all citizen complaints and police use of force. Such an analysis helps to identify the common denominators in complaints and use of force reports.

In turn, with analytical findings, departments can identify training needs in such areas as policy and procedure, tactics, sensitivity/cultural awareness, and supervisory responsibility. Or, department managers can track positive trends, such as changes in employee behavior that result from training initiated after an internal affairs review.

Internal Affairs and the Training Process

Undoubtedly, positive police/ community relations require proper training. As a testament to this, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA) adopted numerous training standards as part of its comprehensive accreditation program. One standard identified the importance of departmentwide input in the development and evaluation of training needs and concerns.(1)

With this in mind, law enforcement departments should include members of their internal affairs units in the training process. Smaller departments that do not have separate internal affairs units should allow those officers who normally conduct internal affairs investigations to participate. The insights these individuals offer may help to identify future training needs.

Recruit Training

In a model policy statement, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) suggested that police ethics should be a major component in the training curricula, as should an indepth examination of the rules, procedures, and outcomes of the disciplinary process.(2) As such, it seems appropriate for internal affairs personnel to participate in the recruit training program.

Police departments should allow sufficient time for investigators to instruct recruits as to their duties and responsibilities, as well as to inform them of departmental policies and procedures concerning complaints of alleged misconduct. At this time, investigators should familiarize recruits with the department's forms and procedures in processing disciplinary cases and the appropriate appeal processes regarding adverse actions.

In addition, internal affairs investigators need to clarify the relationship between the officer and the jurisdiction in defending civil suits. However, training should also emphasize ways recruits can avoid complaints and reduce the chance of becoming involved in an adverse disciplinary action. In this regard, internal affairs investigators can impress upon recruits the importance of complete honesty when reporting incidents or responding to administrative questions. Recruits must realize that false statements only complicate matters and may result in harsher administrative action.

Most new officers are very conscientious and strive to do a good job. However, these same officers must realize that at some point, they may become the subject of a complaint. Unfortunately, the very nature of law enforcement in today's society sets the stage for emotional situations that could result in a complaint lodged against an officer. However, internal affairs investigators should advise recruits to remain objective and not to become involved personally or emotionally with the case.

Furthermore, internal affairs investigators must be objective, fair, and treat people as they would like to be treated in a similar situation. This interaction between recruits and internal affairs investigators encourages increased communication and prevents mistrust and misunderstandings.

Inservice Training

Despite the immense value of informing recruits of the internal affairs process, training should not stop there. Newly enacted legislation and court actions continually impact on a myriad of personnel issues. To inform veteran employees of these changes, many departments subscribe to publications that report the latest case law developments in the areas of constitutional law and personnel procedures. Law enforcement managers and internal affairs personnel should study this information and then disseminate it using training bulletins. This not only exposes employees to the latest rulings but also keeps them abreast of personnel issues and constitutional law.

In addition, internal affairs investigators should participate in inservice training sessions. Their firsthand knowledge of internal affairs investigations and recent court rulings could help to explain departmental changes in policy or procedure that affect the delivery of law enforcement services and how personnel matters are addressed.

Person-to-Person Training

Despite the best efforts of department managers to deal effectively with complaints against employees, problems still arise. However, not all internal affairs investigations result in a finding of gross wrong-doing on the part of the law enforcement employee. Quite often, an employee merely exercises bad judgment or misunderstands departmental policies or procedures. These and other minor infractions are addressed more appropriately through one-on-one counseling or training.

This person-to-person contact, if properly conducted, may help to bring about a positive behavior change on the part of the employee, which will prevent similar situations from occurring in the future. This type of training not only resolves the matter in question but also fosters a better relationship between the employee and the internal affairs unit.


An agency's internal affairs unit, if properly used, is an important resource. The experience of the internal affairs personnel in conducting administrative investigations and analyzing complaints and use-of-force cases detects individual and departmentwide trends that, if not corrected, could manifest themselves as major problems in the future. But, the value of the internal affairs unit does not stop there. The work of the internal affairs unit can be used to identify critical training needs. In this broadened role, internal affairs investigators serve as training instructors who can help to create better working relationships between department employees and the internal affairs unit.

Today, departments should not use internal affairs units only to enforce departmental policy and regulations. With proper planning, these units can play a positive role in effective law enforcement training.


(1) The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. Standards for Law Enforcement Agencies, Fairfax, Virginia, 1989. (2) The U.S. Department of Justice, Principles of Good Policing: Avoiding Violence Between Police and Citizens, Washington, DC, 1987.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Federal Bureau of Investigation
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Webber, Nelson O., Jr.
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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