Internal Investigation

Misbehavior or Misconduct?

There is a difference between personal and professional misconduct. Police and fire chiefs have ultimate authority and responsibility for the conduct of their officers. When an officer's behavior starts getting out of line, the chief usually attempts to deal with it in-house. But when the officer's activities embarrass higher-ups, risk criminal prosecutions, or become public knowledge, he then becomes a political — and legal — liability. How his supervisors or chief react to you depends on many factors.

If you decide to go to the department and report your abuse, your safety greatly depends on the chief's attitude. Many chiefs and supervisors refuse to admit that officer-involved domestic violence ever happens. When a victim or a victim's advocate informs the chief of a case involving one of his officers, he dismisses it as a "he said, she said." He points out that there is no proof, only the victim's allegations. Instead of listening to the victim's story, the chief offers his analysis of the situation, which generally goes something like this:

Speaking for the abuser,

"Cops come from the general population. We are only human and make mistakes like everyone else. Everyone has marital spats and family problems. Sometimes the situation just gets out of hand. Cops have a right to a private life. If it doesn't interfere with how he does his job, it's nobody's business. And besides, give the poor guy a break. He's a good cop and he could lose his job over this thing. It's just not fair to him."

As for the victim,

"From what I know, she's no angel. She needs to behave herself. She won't leave him alone. She won't get off his case. There are two sides to every story, and he may be the real victim here. They're in the middle of a messy divorce and she's holding the job over him. The guy's career is at stake because she's vindictive and wants him fired."

Discover the Facts

The more you know about this process, the more control you may have regarding your safety.

If your allegations are credible and serious enough, the chief may order an internal investigation. The purpose of the internal investigation is to discover the facts of the case, so an investigator will collect statements from you and other witnesses. Your confidentiality is not guaranteed no matter what the investigator says. He/she may be personally concerned for your well-being, but their job is to discover the facts of the case. They will be highly skilled in drawing out information during the witness interviews.

Before you agree to an interview with Internal Affairs, you might want to ask:

The abuser has a legal right to know the allegations against him so any information you give the investigator will be available to your abuser or his attorney. Ironically, compelling you to divulge certain information can actually help shield the abuser from prosecution. If the investigator elicits information from you about a serious incident, and then orders the abuser to answer questions regarding the incident, his compelled statement is protected under the Garrity rule. Keep your safety your highest priority. You have to decide whether or not you are willing to cooperate with the internal and/or criminal investigations. It is your choice whether to cooperate with the internal investigation — unless you are also employed by the department.

If you are a law enforcement officer, you must cooperate with the investigators. Refusal could be grounds for discipline or dismissal. During the investigation, you may face:

Meeting with Department Officials

Does a victim have the right to bring an advocate with her when she meets with the department?
Generally, you can bring someone with you, but there may be collective bargaining agreements or other procedures that limit who can accompany you, and when. Have your advocate inquire about any confidentiality issues.
How can an advocate help prepare a woman to report her abuse?
Ask your advocate whether she has worked with the department's victim liaisons, investigating officers, and officials. Your advocate should help you prepare a clear statement of what you would like to happen as a result of your complaint, and when possible, link it to the department's policies and standards of conduct. Talk about how the department and your abuser may react to your complaint. What are possible disciplinary actions? What will you do if the chief, detective, or investigator defend the officer and accuse you of exaggeration or vindictiveness?
What should the advocate do when accompanying a victim to a meeting with the department?
You must discuss the role you want your advocate to play before the meeting. Determine how involved you want her to be, and whether the department places any restrictions on her participation. Generally, an advocate who accompanies a woman is a witness, not a participant in the proceedings. As such, she is there to provide silent support, and later can provide a reality check about what occurred. She can also help you take notes of what is said and promised.
Can or should an advocate tape a meeting on the victim's behalf?
You can request to tape any meetings with the department. This can mean a less candid response, however. You should carefully consider the potential benefits and consequences of taping. When the department records a meeting — a common procedure in internal investigations — you should ask for a copy.
What kind of notes should the victim and advocate keep?
After the meeting, you both should write down (or tape record) everything you remember about the meeting. Record who was present, what was said, the tone of voice, and impressions about the attendees' attitudes. Write down what the chief or other supervisor promised to do in response to your complaint.Back to top


The department's number one concern is their own liability.

The department has to protect itself against the liability that your situation presents. If you are an officer or employed by the department, this may be a workplace violence issue and the department is liable for your safety. Though individual supervisors may be sympathetic to you, they must put the department first. Some departments will put you on administrative or medical leave pending an investigation. You may feel betrayed when they seem more worried about the department's liability and public image than about you. If the public is aware of the abuse — perhaps through media coverage — the department may take action whether or not you want them to. Similarly, if your abuser has been identified as a problem officer who is a liability risk, they may override your concerns in order to reduce their exposure.

If they feel that the abuser is a liability, they will support you and encourage you to cooperate with the investigation by telling them everything. If they do not feel that the abuser is a liability, they might make it very difficult for you to report what you know. They might attack your credibility and warn you of the consequences of falsely accusing an officer. The role of Internal Affairs is to gather information, make a finding, present the facts to the chief, and make a recommendation on what, if any, disciplinary action should be taken. It is then up to the chief to make a decision. The process can take a very long time. The quality of the investigation will depend on the size of the department, the resources they have, and the professionalism of administrative officials. Internal Affairs will collect and analyze the facts of the case. Based on a "preponderance of the evidence," they will reach one of the following findings:

Disciplinary Action

There are a number of possible disciplinary actions. The chief can suspend or demote the officer, order the officer into counseling or substance abuse treatment, or terminate the officer. If there is evidence that a crime was committed, the department can take it to the State's Attorney and pursue prosecution. Usually the prosecutor will proceed if the department asks to file charges. Any one of these outcomes may put you at risk of retaliation by the abuser. You may need to implement your safety plan.

Risk Factors

An internal investigation, and if warranted a criminal investigation, is extremely threatening to an officer. The threat of being investigated and found guilty (administratively or criminally) may be enough to escalate the abuser to the point of homicide and/or suicide. Your safety — and even that of all who help you — greatly depend on the integrity of fellow officers, supervisors, chiefs, and prosecutors.

The department, advocates, attorneys, and all other professionals involved must review the process, implications and safety concerns associated with an internal investigation. Removing an officer's weapon may increase the risk of suicide because of its association with loss of career and identity as an officer. An abusive officer may decide that he has nothing more to lose when facing dismissal. Two of the most significant predictors of murder and/or suicide among law enforcement officers are problems on the job and problems in the intimate relationship. Known risk factors include the batterer's previous suicide threats, access to firearms, and suspicion that the victim is planning to escape.

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Training, attitudes and values affect how individuals and departments respond to OIDV.

Our books are available through:

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Victim Handbook
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Hijacked by the Right
Crossing the Threshold
Crossing the Threshold by Diane Wetendorf