In federal law enforcement agencies, one of the most frequent causes of discord in the office can be an ongoing Office of Inspector General, Internal Affairs, Office of Professional Responsibility or other internal administrative investigation. An internal administrative investigation from one of these entities can dramatically increase tension in the workplace, cause trust issues between employees, and severely impact an office’s productivity. However, whether you are the subject of an investigation, only tangentially involved, or an investigator yourself, there are ways to mitigate the negative effects while emphasizing the true aim of an IA investigation: getting to the truth.
An effective internal administrative investigation faces many structural handicaps on its way to completion and a fair and just outcome. Management officials worried about the investigation’s effect on their organization’s capabilities may overtly or discreetly attempt to hinder the investigator’s efforts. Employees, unwilling to admit culpability, may choose to impugn the investigators’ motives or integrity in an attempt to deflect attention from their own wrongdoing. Innocent employees may be intimidated by an investigation and add to the negative view of the investigation itself.
For internal investigators, the best way to counteract the often-negative perception surrounding an investigation is to conduct the inquiry in a professional manner that respects the employees’ rights. Many employees view internal administrative investigations as having a predetermined outcome (i.e., someone will be found guilty of infractions). An honest and professional investigation that is impartial and free of external influences can go a long way in assuaging employees’ fears. Investigators can greatly aid this process by clearly stating to employees their interview rights and responsibilities (e.g., voluntary v. compelled/Kalkines interviews). Furthermore, agents running an impartial investigation help employees recognize that the goal of these investigations is to find the truth of the matter, not to conduct a witch hunt. Although not all agencies allow employees to have a legal representative present during interviews, extending this courtesy when possible can also lead to a more effective investigation. With legal representation by their side, employees often feel more comfortable with the process, and in our opinion, this less tense atmosphere can lead to a more direct and forthcoming fact finding process.
An investigative apparatus that is trusted and respected through an agency’s rank and file can be a tremendous asset. When run effectively, the internal investigations unit aids management and the organization as a whole as an instrument of ensuring the highest standards of professional conduct. Employees in organizations with well-run and impartial administrative investigators are more likely to respect investigations’ results and less likely to stonewall an investigation or attempt to manipulate its outcome. On the flip side, when an organization’s internal investigative function is viewed by employees as biased or easily influenced, the investigative process can be harmed by uncooperative employees and management taking steps to cripple an investigation.
Professional and honest IA investigators can greatly aid in relieving the inevitable tension an internal investigation will bring. With supportive management and education on this investigative function in the workplace, an agency can create and support an effective internal investigative entity.
FEDS provides professional liability insurance for the entire federal law enforcement community. For information on your specific exposures, how professional liability insurance protects, or how the FEDS program differs from other insurance programs, visit us on the web at fedsprotection.com and choose the position or agency that best describes your job and professional responsibilities.