U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Internal Affairs: Practice and Policy Review for Smaller Departments

NCJ Number
Police Chief Volume: 69 Issue: 10 Dated: October 2002 Pages: 73,76,78,79,81,82
Beau Thurnauer
Date Published
October 2002
6 pages
This article describes the process of handling complaints against police in small police departments.
In most agencies composed of 10 or fewer employees, the chief will normally receive the complaint and investigate it. If there is a rank structure, the chief may assign the initial complaint to a supervisor. Any investigation should be completed by someone of higher rank than the person that is the subject of the investigation. Policies should make it very clear who receives complaints. A simple declaration that all complaints against any member of the police department will be received and investigated leaves little room for dispute. The officer that is the subject of the complaint should know the circumstances of the complaint immediately unless a criminal investigation prohibits it. If there is not criminal element in the complaint, the investigation is purely administrative. This means that the result will be personnel action, not criminal action. Garrity warnings must be given if appropriate. Garrity warnings are similar to Miranda warnings, but warn the employee that failure to fully disclose information that is related to the office held may result in discipline up to and including dismissal. A written policy should describe each step of the internal investigation. It is acceptable to allow subject officers to be accompanied by a union officer or other representative. Most States allow a polygraph only if suggested by the subject employee. Exculpatory information is an issue in internal investigations. If there are many people to interview, it may be necessary to involve a second investigator. It is normal for the entire investigation to be complete within 30 days of the original complaint. All files should remain in a locked location within the police chief’s control. All cases need a disposition. Exoneration makes it clear that the officer did nothing wrong and that the case is cleared. “Inconclusive” may be an honest but undesirable conclusion. If there is proof that the officer did wrong, he or she must be found guilty. At the end of the year, it is a good policy to make public all complaints received during the year.