Today’s Investigative Special Report – December 11, 2012 “Dealing With Today’s Law Enforcement Specialized Investigations” “Is Law Enforcement On ‘Autopilot’ When It Comes To Investigating Allegations Of Sexual Abuse and Assaults?”

By Lawrence W. Daly, MSc
Forensic Expert – Senior Author
Trying to understand what the state of mind law enforcement officers have when they are assigned to investigate a possible crime of child sexual abuse allegations is confusing, not only to law 
Virginia State Police car
Virginia State Police car (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
enforcement, but to the public. The reasons will become apparent as the issues discussed are general in nature reference the quality of the officers and investigations.
Every law enforcement agency across the United States understands that their officers are only as good as their education and training received post-high school. Over the past three decades the majority of law enforcement officers come to the job with an undergraduate degree. Recently, many officers bring graduate degrees as well.
Education is financially rewarded by many of the law enforcement agencies as an added bonus and incentive to recruit potential candidates. Further, those officers who have undergraduate and graduate degrees will have a greater opportunity to potentially move up the chain of command.
The responsibility of training their officers is the agencies sole responsibility. As soon as the officer is hired by the agency there are state laws which require the officer will have to attend the state police academy. Depending on the state, the police academy can range anywhere from four to six months in duration.
Once the officer has graduated from the academy, the officer will then be placed into a field training program with his/her agency. The duration of the field training program being determined by the individual agencies policies and procedures, but generally the programs duration is three to five months.
The education the officer possesses will be based upon the undergraduate of graduate degree they obtained and which colleges they obtained the degree(s) from. This is where some officers will have an advantage over other officer’s because of the specific curriculums and the higher learning college they attended.
Examining and evaluating the education and training an officer receives over a specific time frame will most likely project which direction their career will be focused on. There will be some officers who want to work in the Operational Division i.e., patrol or the Criminal Investigation Division i.e., detective, child sexual abuse investigations and sexual assaults.
Whichever avenue of advancement the officer selects they will approach their selection with the same training as the other officers. However, there may be some newly hired officers who have military police training, which will assist them in their advancement within the department.
Depending upon the field training officers, and what the newly hired officer will be exposed to may make a significant difference in comparison to other newly hired officers. If this is the case the advanced field training officer will provide a higher standard of training. The purpose of having a field training officer program is to allow the newly hired officer to be exposed to multiple field training officers so they are given the opportunity to learn from a diversity of officers who are experienced and specialized in a specific investigative task, such as being a crime scene technician.
Sometimes the newly hired officer will have the unfortunate experience of being trained by a field training officer who operates on “autopilot.” “Autopilot” in law enforcement are officers who go through the motions in their specific investigative assignments.  They know the policy and procedures of what is required of them and this is how they approach and handle their investigation. They don’t do anything more than what is required of them. This is the type of officer an agency and the community doesn’t want investigating sexual abuse/assault type cases.
These types of officers (autopilots) are the norm, not because they are lazy, uneducated, or untrained, but it is the easiest investigative method and technique to accomplish their jobs. If an investigation requires they take a witness statement and prepare a report, then this is all they will do.
Their jobs are mechanical in nature, their thinking is dull, and they have little motivation to do anything more than what is required of them. If a newly hired officer is trained by an “autopilot” officer than they will learn the basics of the investigation which has been assigned to them. Nothing more, nothing less, they will do what is asked of them.
So how does an officer stay away from becoming one of the norms and instead flourish and have the reputation that they are a motivated, innovative, and a creative law enforcement officer? There are several steps an officer can take to be the best he/she can be:
1.      After their one year, probation has been accomplished, and then the officer needs to find an area of expertise they want to pursue and develop their knowledge of how they can become an expert in this field.
2.      The officer needs to know each and every general rule, guideline, policy, procedure, and process in their law enforcement agency. They need to have the basics memorized and capable of reciting them if any situation arises and there are questions about how a specific task needs to be accomplished.
3.      The officer needs to become an avid reader in their field of interests. There are thousands of books on crime scene investigations, interviewing, crimes, criminal profiling, and so forth. In order to change their status from novice to expert they will need to set aside time everyday to read and read and read.
4.      The officer needs to attend workshops, conferences, webinars, or any other educational venues on the subject matter they want to become an expert in.
5.      The officer needs to volunteer in their unit and division in their department so they can determine if they want to set their goals and aspirations in this field of being a police officer. The volunteering needs to be outside their specific assignment.
6.      The officer needs to interview experts in the law enforcement field who are known as being the top in the field they are interested in. These experts can be inside their own department or part of other law enforcement agencies.
7.      The officer needs to locate websites, journals, publications, and other resources which can assist the officer in learning what the scientific ideologies are in reference to their field of study.
It takes much effort and dedication to become one of the best in the field of study that a law enforcement officer wants to pursue. The technical aspects of being competent and intelligent, requires the officer to develop a short-term and long-term training and education action plan. Preparation is necessary so milestones, when accomplished, can be checked as completed.
The degree in which the officer wants to take his/her level of expertise will be determined by the officer, their available time, finances, work, and other professional and personal factors. Once the officer has accomplished their training and education action plan it may be time for the officer to begin applying within his/her department for the specific investigative position they have put their time in to become qualified for and an expert in.
The decision to be on “autopilot” in child sexual abuse cases depends upon the pedigree of the officer. If they were born to be an individual who has always accomplished goals and desires by doing the minimal than they will be on “autopilot” during their law enforcement career. It takes a special type of officer to investigate allegations of child sexual abuse. The officer must be willing to present an attitude of neutrality and objectivity at all times. It is easy to sit back and watch an investigation develop on its own or the officer can direct the investigation documenting all facts and evidence.
If an officer wants to be an expert in the field of child sexual abuse investigation, then the officer needs to expend time working in an investigative field such as burglary/larceny obtaining experience and learning how to develop relationships with other detectives, patrol officers, management, and the local prosecutors. This experience is invaluable and should be one of the short-term training and education action plans.
It takes a special type of person to be a law enforcement officer. Further, selecting the specific avenues the officer desires to take may determine the longevity the officer will be employed as an officer. Most individuals who become officers stay with the agency until retirement or another opportunity presents itself.
The type of officer law enforcement management and the community wants on their police force are intelligent and competent officers who do not support those officers who live on “autopilot.” The type of officer everyone appreciates, desires, and respects are those who plan out their future. When provided an opportunity to perform an investigation, conduct it in such a manner that there are no questions about the integrity of the investigation. The quality of the motivated, creative, and innovative officer generally is considered the type of investigation the community appreciates. If you are a law enforcement officer are you on “autopilot?” Or are you an officer with a specific vision to be the best you can be not just today, but tomorrow and the future.

Lawrence W. Daly
Kent, WA

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