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Book excerpt: Political Survival for Cops

The author shares 12 tips on how cops can survive an internal affairs interview


Photo/Dan Milchovich

The following is excerpted from “Political Survival for Cops” by Dan Milchovich.

Tips for Surviving IA Interviews

There is no escaping a session with internal affairs investigators once a formal complaint has been filed. The atmosphere is nowhere near a hiring interview, a promotional interview, or even an ass chewing in the watch commander’ office. First, an understanding of the tremendous impact of the reversal of roles needs to be addressed. An officer being interviewed by those who are obligated to elicit information that may result in punitive measures is essentially a suspect. The suspect gets his rights, you get yours. He gets an attorney, you get yours. He gets rules that govern the interview environment, so do you. His statements get recorded, so do yours. He is sweating, so are you. He must be careful in how he frames a response, so do you.

Testifying in court, being grilled by a defense attorney, and performing for a jury come in a close second, but the internal affairs interview generates a whole new level of anxiety, especially for a first time “violator” who simply doesn’t have any experience with it. Here are a few suggestions to help reduce the unknown.

1. Always have a representative in the room with you. Lesser allegations should only require someone from your police association or union. Anything not considered “lesser allegations” need a lawyer. In any matter that may result in your discipline, you should not make oral or written statements unless ordered to do so. Your lawyer will most likely have little actual input in the interview itself, and will be limited to observing the conduct of the investigators, counseling you, and placing objections on the record if violations of protocol and the law are detected. And keep in mind that, depending on the language incorporated into a particular state’s officer “bill of rights”, it usually up to you to request a representative or attorney. Management will not automatically do it for you.

2. Even though you may know the IA investigators, at this point they are not your brethren and are professionally obligated to obtain the truth, even if it results in your termination, or in more serious cases, your prosecution.

3. You will be advised of your rights. Then you may receive (depending on the state) a second admonishment advising you that you do not have the right to refuse to answer, but that your answers will not be used against you in any possible criminal investigation. That means that you will most likely be terminated administratively for insubordination if you refuse to answer questions. The part about the content of the answers not being used against you later has been the focus of several legal cases. This is an area that you must keep abreast of with the advice of your union or association attorney.

4. Confirm at the outset of the interview whether you are the subject of allegations, or a witness to the investigation. This may sound absurd, after all, you are there in the room being recorded and questioned. But some unethical IA investigators have been known to pull in officers on the outer fringes of an incident under investigation in an effort to obtain incriminating statement “just to clear up a misunderstanding.” No attorney, no notification, no legal justification. Let’s just chat about this thing a moment. Don’t fall for it. It happened to me as a captain, but it didn’t work because I knew how the system worked. New cops don’t.

5. Listen carefully to every question. Do not immediately respond or anticipate where the questions are going. It will influence your answer. You are not talking to the guys in the briefing room. IA investigators (at least the good ones) are trained to organize their questions to lead you in a certain direction, with a generalized expectation of your answer before it comes. Don’t help them by giving them additional avenues of attack. But most IA investigators are people moving through the unit on their way to places they really want to go. Chances are good that questions will be open-ended with an expectation that you will hang yourself if given enough noose.

6. Beware of giving clichéd answers, such as “bright shiny object,” reached for his waistband” and other overused expressions that reduce actual events to coded language. Much is lost in translation if you do not defend your actions or thoughts in specific language that portrays what actually took place.

7. Beware of giving responses that reflect patterns. You can only “not recall” so many times before someone calls you on selective memory or actually lying. It is natural to have been “looking in other directions” and away from the activity under investigation, but not in cases with multiple points of allegations, several involved officers, and long durations.

8. You will be asked if you discussed whatever incident that is under investigation with other officers. If so, say so. Just be very sure that the discussion was not about how to testify, or any other behavior that could be interpreted as organizing untrue testimony. To simplify, don’t ever get with other officers, and especially those also being charged with policy violations in the same incident, and talk about the case. If you do, you leave yourself wide open to probing about those conversations, and misinterpretations about what was discussed. In states that have provided legal protections for their public safety officers, your attorney will have access to all documents prior to the interview.

9. I encourage you to challenge any statement, comment or question you determine to be “out of line” by the investigator. If you have an attorney present, that will happen. If you have a department representative present, that may happen. Don’t be shy about noting your objection on the record at the time it happens. It doesn’t need extensive explanation to give the investigators yet another avenue to explore.

10. If you do record an objection or make a challenge, carefully observe the reactions of the investigators. Cops are trained to red flag resistance on the part of others as a survival tool. It doesn’t wear off just because they trade a patrol car for a desk. Some cops have never been able to simply shrug it off, and it may affect the behaviors of an investigator who brings it to the interview room. Your attorney should pick up on it and carefully monitor the remainder of the interview and the documents that result from it.

11. If you screwed up and they have you dead-bang, and the evidence is overwhelming …. don’t make it worse. It the allegations are serious, you will be following the lead of your attorney. If the allegations are minor and don’t require an attorney, don’t be tempted to play games in the interview. It will backfire on you. You won’t be fired for the allegation, you will be fired for the lie.

In an article published on the Police1 website, Lt. Dan Marcou succinctly put the dilemma surrounding the urge to manipulate, or positively spin statements in contrast to speaking the truth regardless of where it lands. He recalled speaking to an attorney who emphasized that he never told a client to lie, but if they did, it was his hope that it be “as close to the truth as possible (because) it’s easier to sell.” When you are across the table from internal affairs, “close” will get you fired every time, because in our world anything but the truth is a lie.

12. Once the internal affairs investigation is complete, and the decision has been made concerning the outcome, there is an appeals process that ranges from an internal meeting with the chief to administrative hearings with city management to outside legal processes with neutral arbitrators, and finally to formalized legal proceedings in a court of law. The type and scope of those processes beyond the chief is subject to a number of factors, including state law, city ordinances and policy, and negotiated contracts. Many large agencies have additional methods used for the appeals process. You will rarely receive any reduction of discipline in your meeting with the chief, after all, he or she is the person who signed off on your discipline, and in many cases, was the force behind the level of discipline.