How supervisory review of use-of-force incidents helps cops and agencies

An agency’s supervisory should be staff trained on how to conduct a proper and impartial UOF review

Recently I have had some folks reach out to me with a question regarding supervisory response and review of a use-of-force incident. It seems that e some supervisors and officers are pushing back against the idea.

It is my considered opinion that supervisory response and an impartial supervisory review of a use-of-force incident are critical. I am referring to these types of incidents:

1. Any force response that required documentation

2. Any force response resulting in injury to an officer or suspect

3. Any force response where the suspect declares his/her intention of complaining against the officer or suing the officer/agency

The level of investigation can be tempered or intensified depending on the type of force used and the nature of the injury (risk exposure for complaints or civil actions).

The importance of reviews
A supervisory review is not only the proper thing to do – it is expected by the public as an industry standard. As a defense expert working for the defense of the agency and the officers, I cannot even count how many times I found valuable and critical evidence (physical, forensic and statements) that was very important to the case and would have certainly had been lost if not gathered in a timely investigation. If I were the expert for the plaintiff and I saw that no investigation was conducted, that would certainly be a point of contention in my report and testimony.

The idea of an impartial supervisory review is to:

1. Show that the agency is doing its job to promote the proper use of force within the law and agency policy.

2. Demonstrate to the public that the agency has a vested interest in protecting the civil rights of citizens.

3. In most cases, to document that the officer(s) did his/her job correctly and in accordance with the law and agency policy, protecting the officer and agency against civil actions.

The time spent on a proper investigation will certainly pay off tenfold if it helps to avoid negative consequences.

The importance of impartiality
That said, any investigation must be impartial, and if it looks like the force is unreasonable or not in line with policy, the investigation must document it as such. Part of being a supervisor is to protect the agency as well as the officers. If a person accepts the responsibilities of this assignment, then he or she must accept the duties associated.

Public expectations now demand a proper and impartial investigation of an officer’s use of force. For agencies that have ignored this demand, they are either now being reviewed by an outside “review board” or are on the path to this conclusion. Some have even seen impracticable changes made to their policies to appease the political beast.

An agency has to ask itself this simple question: Would you prefer to have trained supervisors/investigators who understand the policy and applicable laws investigating the incident, or a group that may have an alternate agenda to prove without weighing the facts?

Indeed, some companies are trying to profit from this expectation by offering their services to agencies to perform a task that could easily be done in house. A properly trained in-house investigator can be much more cost-efficient and will most likely conduct a better investigation. If an outside expert is needed later, the properly conducted investigation can assist the expert and cut down on the hourly expenses of the service.

The importance of training
The question still remains: Should agencies require a supervisory response and review of an officer’s use-of-force incident?

I believe the answer is obviously “yes” – with the added suggestion of training the agency’s supervisory staff on how to conduct a proper and impartial UOF review. It is just as important to train the command staff and ensure that they understand the current legal principles and training standards. Through these efforts, the agency protects itself, the officers and the public they serve by showing a vested interest in protecting everyone’s rights.

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