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Under the microscope: Coping with the stress of an internal investigation, Part 1

Part 1 of a 2-part series
By Dr. Laurence Miller

You hope it never happens to you: You receive notice that you are being subject to an Internal Affairs investigation or similar administrative action. For some officers, this comes as a complete shock; for others, it confirms what they've suspected has been brewing for a long time. Either way, you expect that your whole life is about to change.
Of all the e-mails I receive at this website, probably the most frequent topic has to do with officers' relationships to their own agencies, and this often includes disciplinary issues. The purpose of this column is not to give you legal advice; in fact, later on I'll discuss the importance of obtaining qualified legal counsel for your case. I also make no judgment as to the validity of the case against you or about the nature of, and motives behind, the acts under investigation.
Relatedly, I'm not here to second-guess the decisions of law enforcement administrators, the overwhelming majority of whom are honorable public servants, dedicated to the welfare of their personnel and their communities. The primary purpose of this column is to provide practical information on coping with the psychological stress of an internal investigation or, in the case of a termination or other disciplinary action, the appeals process and its aftermath.

Who Gets Investigated and Why
It's not just cops who find themselves under the microscope. In my years of practice, I've counseled, advised, treated, and evaluated a range of professionals who have been investigated, disciplined, suspended, terminated, criminally prosecuted, lost their licenses, and/or been sued in civil court for a variety of reasons:

Medical doctors. Malpractice, substandard care, medication overprescription, personal abuse of legal drugs or illegal substances, sexual harassment or impropriety with patients or staff, improper business relationship with patients or staff, billing or insurance fraud, or other financial impropriety.

Mental health professionals. Malpractice, improper sexual relationship with patients, improper business relationship with patients, billing fraud, suicide of a patient (family is distraught and angry and seeks to blame someone), failure to observe duty to warn or protect third parties (in states which have this statute), failure to report child abuse (all states require this).

Attorneys, judges, prosecutors. Malpractice (usually substandard legal representation), violation of attorney-client privilege, subornation of perjury (instructing or helping a client to lie under oath), judicial misconduct, financial fraud, DUI charges.

Protective services or court personnel. Child abuse investigators, guardians ad litem, or victim services personnel who misuse their authority.

Public safety personnel. This usually includes firefighters, paramedics, and other non-police safety personnel. Infractions typically involve incompetent or substandard practice on duty or illegal or embarrassing behavior while off-duty, occasionally direct mistreatment or abuse of a citizen during a call.

Clergy. Usually sexual indiscretion and/or financial fraud.

Other. Airline crew personnel (usually intoxication or failure to follow standard flight procedures), corporate or government managers or executives (almost anything, from sexual harassment, to financial fraud, to abusive management style).
What do these professionals have in common? They all occupy positions of high public authority and trust. Society places great power and responsibility in their hands and so we hold them to a higher standard of personal and professional conduct than many other workers. Professionals in these fields take the position that tolerating even a few bad apples can have devastating repercussions - practical, professional, political, financial - on the field as a whole. Hence, to preserve the honor and integrity of these professions as a whole, investigators seem to apply special zeal in pursuing those who are suspected of breaking the rules.

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