Law Enforcement’s Mental Approach To Child Sexual Abuse Investigations – Part XV

English: This is Sheriff Sue L. Rahr, of King ...
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By Lawrence W. Daly, MSc

“To ignore the evidence, and hope that it cannot be true, is more an evidence of mental illness”

It isn’t unc
ommon for law enforcement to have to deal with individuals who suffer from mental illnesses. Training and educating law enforcement officials in what these mental illnesses are and how to deal with them comes from having the correct and proper mental approaches. There are no easy answers and each individual should be dealt with on a one on one basis. The law enforcement official should clearly understand the need for control, clarity, and caution. In today’s world the mental illness presentation by the individual could cause one of the parties to be harmed, including the law enforcement official.

Several years ago, a King County Deputy Sheriff responded to a call in the Newport, Washington area about a man acting erratic. Upon arrival the Deputy was confronted by a man who was simply out of his mind. The Deputy and man struggled for his gun and the Deputy was shot and killed. There are numerous stories like this one where a law enforcement official responds to an individual acting strange, weird, and erratic behavior and then the official ends up seriously injured or killed.

The mental approach the law enforcement official needs to consider when responding to an incident where someone is acting out or bizarre, is for the official to mechanically progressively review each investigative step they will need to take to prevent harm or death to one of the victims, witnesses and/or the official prior to and upon arriving to the scene.

The mechanical investigative steps must insure everyone’s safety. This also occurs in child sexual assault cases where the emotions are running at an extreme out of control level. The official needs to have the mental approach that the parties involved generally are picking sides, those who believe the child and those who believe the adult. In picking sides the law enforcement official and later the investigator has to keep everyone calm and not at each other’s throats.

Deputy sheriff, Mogollon, New Mexico
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Early on in my career as a patrol officer I received an assignment to respond to a specific residential area because there was an individual who was kicking mail boxes off their posts. It was approximately 3:00 in the morning and he should have been home sleeping. Unfortunately for him, he was about to get arrested. Another patrol officer got to the area prior to my arriving on the scene. Upon arrival to the location where the patrol officer and the individual were, I found this individual on top of the patrol officer punching the officer in the face. It took me a few minutes to get this individual into restraints. Later the patrol officer told me that one minute he was talking to the individual about why he was knocking mailboxes off of their posts and the next minute the individual was on top of him, punching him. In hindsight the patrol officer told me he didn’t have the correct and proper mental approach when he contacted this individual.

In law enforcement everyone learns from another law enforcement official’s mistake. Word gets out quickly about what happened to an official. In child sexual assault investigations most of the time the investigator is following-up the case assignment on his/her own.  Upon contacting the alleged sexual offender and interrogating him/her the investigator must have the mental approach prior to meeting with the offender that things may go wrong and he/she must prepare for the worse.

Offenders generally are not violent individuals and taking them into custody is generally done without much resistance. However, it is the violent offender who has never demonstrated violence prior to the follow-up contact that becomes the problem for the investigator. It only takes one individual with mental illness for a law enforcement official to be seriously harmed, injured or killed.

There are several mental approaches the investigator can take when contacting alleged sexual offenders and the contact is without back-up. Officer safety is the number one priority in the law enforcement arena, but most departments do not have the man power to have two investigators who can go out into the field and contact victims, witnesses and sexual offenders with a partner. Any individual the investigator contacts could potentially be a threat and this is the mental approach the investigator must have that no one is safe no matter whose side they demonstrate they are on.

The mental approach is for the investigator to understand that in 2007 it was established and published that the amount of money spent in the child sexual abuse industry was approximately 104 billion dollars. A major portion of this money went to treating, counseling and incarcerating the mental illnesses that victims, witnesses and sexual offenders suffered from. 

As a law enforcement investigator the situation will appear on the radar screen that the investigator has this sexual offender who has demonstrated bizarre behavior to many individuals and there is concern that he might take his own life or may be a physical threat to the child victim he sexually assaulted; the witnesses who are assisting the police in pursuing prosecution against him; and then the law enforcement officials and investigators who are conducting the investigations against him.

The question that the Special Assault Unit supervisor needs to ask their investigators how many professionals do they know that they can turn to when the scenario has become hostile and volatile. Further, the investigator needs professional experts to suggest and provide mental approaches which will take them through the investigation and possible arrest. The hypothesis the investigator should consider is just because the alleged sexual offender has a mental illness does this mean they are an alleged sexual offender? This is a great question which needs to be answered if possible, by the investigator, prior to taking him/her into custody.

The magnitude of the mental illness population in the child sexual assault category is enormous and there needs to be training and education to assist the investigators with any and all information which will bring the investigation to a positive and successful conclusion.

Tomorrow, the never ending types of mental approaches the investigator should consider when investigating a child sexual assault investigator are numerous. The investigator needs to catalog all of these mental approaches in which he/she can retrieve them when necessary. As the research about the mental approaches is considered the investigator should deem these approaches as a tool which should be placed into their daily investigative arsenal.

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