From Books To Blues

Another knock at the door interrupted my interview.

Every minute counts in the first few hours of an investigation. I called it “fragile time” where the most detailed work must be done to preserve statements and evidence. It was not protocol for officers to break into the room to hamper a victim’s disclosure nor interject themselves into a taped statement. It was a very serious case, so I took the interruption in the same context, although I was visibly agitated.

“I think we’ve got him, Detective.”

“Where? “ I inquired.

“We brought him here. He is in interview room number 2.”

It was a horrific case which rattled the entire shift on duty at the time it unfolded. A mother and her two year old were kidnapped at a convenience store by a stranger. The mother’s car was driven to different locations by the assailant during the events. This made it difficult for discovery and apprehension due to the maneuverability of an automobile. The two victims were rescued and assisted by some citizens after physical attacks and repeated sexual assaults were endured by the mother.

The officer did not realize this announcement would have caused anxiety, concern, and conflict for the victim. It was an innocent mistake and should have been conveyed to me outside the room in private. It happens. Events transpire rapidly and police officers do not always have perfect timing. Subjecting victims to further angst is always a priority to avoid.

Soon, I left the interview room to view the suspect from the observation deck. I wanted to get a visual of this man and watch his mannerism before I spoke to him. He was unkempt and in a shambles. I could tell he was high.

The victim had asked me if she could observe him behind glass or some sort of partition. She just wanted to look at him. I informed her we have a one way viewing window to the interview and interrogation rooms.

Gazing at her broken strands of hair, bloody face, and broken spirit, I could sympathize why her ultimatums mattered to her. She had experienced an egregious violation. I wanted to give her that opportunity. However, I also wanted to do what was best for her psyche. I did not know at that time what the best choice pertaining to her well-being and recovery was, but I did know what had to be done to preserve the integrity of the case.

I denied the request initially because she needed to identify the suspect from a lineup. The last thing we needed was the case to get kicked for a legality problem like a rule of evidence infraction, civil rights infringement, or breaking protocol by using a tainted identification of the suspect.

She did immediately point to her kidnapper in a photo lineup of several subjects. This was official procedure in my department. After the identification was completed, it allowed for me to later give into her demands to see him through the one way glass. She stared at him and told me she could still remember the smells. Internally defeated, she turned and I accompanied her out to meet a victim’s advocate.

How do you deny a kidnapping and rape victim those requests? You really feel you can’t. However, you have to retain the integrity of the investigation and preserve process, evidence, and evidentiary statements. An identification of a suspect is crucial to be without prejudice. Victims must be shown an impartial lineup. An identification by viewing one single person would be challenged in court.

But we so much rally for the victims! We want to grant them every preservation and freedom we give the bad guys. Sometimes you have to say no. The victims do have many statutory rights stemming from the Crime Victim’s Act of 2004 which must be safeguarded, including “the right to be reasonably protected from the accused.” ( 18 U.S.C. § 3771, Right 1) As a peace officer you need to be ready to articulate everything you do and why.  You certainly do not want to violate civil rights nor legal processes. At the same time you have to guard the integrity of the case and rights of the suspect.

It tugs at you, but you follow your training while treating the victims with compassion. I mean, we can never lose our feelings toward humanity. If we do, we have lost what the meaning of public service should behold. There are those times we suffer from compassion fatigue. This case was not one of those, but it was intensely taxing on all of us due to the details and images we had to record.

I do not know how the mother and her child are doing now. I hope they are well.  The suspect is serving life without parole in prison.

Still want to be a cop?

There are so many decisions and influences putting pressure on us after high school. It’s kind of scary. Each person evaluates their individual position, dreams, and goals. We may all go down different paths to get to law enforcement. Some may join the military. Others may jump into the workforce until they are old enough to apply. I went to college.

If you have ever contemplated being a police officer, then this advice is for you. Police jobs will always be there. In fact, you have to be 21 year of age to be hired. So what to do in the meantime?

There are many options. One of the best options is to seek out continuing education through a pursuit of a college degree. A degree is forever. It cannot be taken away and it is there for future endeavors when your police career ends. It will end. Someday.

I will always wield my enthusiasm and advocate it is the best job in the world. Because it is.

Yet, I want you to be prepared with knowledge and have time to develop some emotional intelligence before you embark upon your law enforcement career. I would suggest you build your resume, especially before you are of age to apply. Certainly you should take opportunities to fill your mind with academic substance. If you thought about dropping out of college to be a cop, don’t do it. Finish.

You can also attend college courses online while you are an officer and obtain your degree while working. Many of my peers have such accomplishments. There are several departments nation-wide who give bonuses or education pay to officers who have degrees.

New York Police Officer

So what courses are the most important and practical to your police profession? That is a loaded question. There are so many. Here are just a few:

1. Interpersonal Communications. Hands down, this is the most used skill you will possess. Hone it.

2. Leadership. These abilities will carry you through your police career. You will guide and direct people from the time you embark out on patrol all the way to the top. Forming relationships, community partnerships, and coalitions are all important functions of networking in the profession.

3. Organizational Management. You might not ever become the chief. However, courses in management are a good academic base for anyone. It gives you a foundation of structure, theories, and management.

4. Internships. Perhaps the greatest feature of your resume is practical experience. Working in a department is not only great hands on experience and a bird’s eye view of law enforcement; it might also lead to a job.

5. Criminal Justice Systems and Criminology. Did you think I would forget the basics? These are the building blocks. Know them inside and out. Brush up on criminal law as well.

Only five key topics? Academia offers many more selections to choose from. I just included some of the highlights. As you progress further into your criminal justice degree, you will find the courses condense into the particulars of the subject matter and veer away from the core classes. That’s the nitty gritty where those who are predisposed to police work will dive into the homework with enthusiasm.

A college degree is a great achievement and it will add to your base knowledge about criminal justice. College efforts can be done prior to becoming 21 and the police application phase. Field training and practical experience will come with time in the uniform. Blending both of those together will make a well-rounded officer. It will also be an avenue to build on for further degree seekers and promotional candidacy. Learn all you can before and during your career as a police officer. Updates and continuing education are vital to leadership skills, emotional intelligence, and a wide knowledge base. We can never know enough.