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A lesson about how to prevent a police scandal

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

At 5 a.m. on a Monday morning in an FBI field office, there was a loud knock on the front door. The young night clerk on duty inside inquired

“Good Morning, sir. May I help you?” The serious-looking man dressed in a business suit and trench coat identified himself as the No. 1 inspector from FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., accompanied then and there by 10 other inspectors.

All were admitted with their heavy briefcases, and they set to work immediately.

Right away, the night clerk called the special agent in charge at his home and described the situation.

What a nightmare for the boss! He knew very well every special agent in the office would be “under the glass” for the next two weeks as the inspectors went through everything with a fine-toothed comb.

By the time everyone got in to work that day, the inspectors would have already discovered some serious substantive violations of policy and procedure.

The boss would try to be cordial to the inspectors but knew there would be letters of censure from then-FBI director Hoover resulting in severe administrative punishments such as reduction in pay and possibly immediate transfer to a distant field office for some the agents and their families.

The FBI Inspection System motivated compliance with carefully crafted policy and procedure that greatly minimized the possibility of a scandal that would tarnish the image of the FBI as the premier law enforcement agency in the free world.

For the most part, it generated willingness on the part of all employees to walk the straight and narrow.

As the years have passed following the 1972 death of Mr. Hoover, the disruptive nature of the surprise inspection was replaced with the arrival of a documents known then as a “Schedule of Interrogatories” well in advance of the arrival of the inspectors.

The inspection is still quite detailed and penetrating. The process serves as a good example of how a law enforcement agency can motivate itself toward maintaining a scandal-free public service.

Citizen Police Review Committee

The oversight of police agencies by carefully selected members of a Police Review Committee have emerged in recent times as a successful mechanism to promote the maintenance of nationally recognized professional standards.

Members of the committee are often well educated and highly successful business men and woman of outstanding character and reputation from the community who have a sincere interest in generating good public service and trust within the jurisdiction’s police agency.

There are a substantial number of retired law enforcement officials residing in Brunswick County who know what it takes to run a top notch police agency.

The purpose of the Citizen Police Review Committee is to evaluate the agency’s record of performance in meeting nationally recognized professional standards including all policies and procedures, law enforcement operations, organization and management, personnel administration and support services.

Further, to set forth recommendations to correct any identified deficiencies and generate fresh approaches to enhance the peace and safety of the community, and to recognize any meritorious service or superior performance of the agency’s staff.

The schedule of questions and findings is the basis from which the committee, if it is established, can begin its work to evaluate their police agency.

It can be a “home spun” version of what is available through the “Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc.” (CALEA).

Had a Citizen Police Review Committee been at work a year a go for Brunswick County, perhaps the unfortunate situation involving our Sheriff could have been averted through diligent oversight and timely corrective action.

Benjamin Franklin had it right when he said, “An once of prevention is worth a pound of cure!”

JOHN HEIDTKE has been employed by municipal, county, state, federal and international law enforcement agencies since 1963.