Policy for Constitutional Law

Article excerpt

If you don't already have comprehensive policy guidance on constitutional law issues and criminal investigative procedure, you should. Changes in the law and in society have made policing an increasingly complex, often confusing business. Once rare, lawsuits against law enforcement agencies and their personnel have increased dramatically and are now common. Associated financial costs can be staggering. A large percentage of these lawsuits allege violations of the plaintiff's federal constitutional rights during investigative processes and a big part of the solution to many of these problems is policy development and implementation.

Officer error is only one of the foreseeable consequences of lack of policy. Without clear and correct policy guidance, both training and supervision can go seriously awry. And civil liability is only one of the potentially negative results. Evidence suppression and loss of public confidence are two more. Lack of clear guidance can, of course, cause officers to overstep their constitutional bounds, but it can also cause officers to become hesitant and/or reluctant to do things that they should be entirely willing to do. Both problems can be disastrous.

This first column suggests a first draft of a Part I of needed policy in this area. Later columns will suggest subsequent sections for continuation of this important policy work. Part I contains a recommended purpose statement and some other introductory content. Other parts (to follow) will include definitions of key legal terms and discussions of officer-citizen contacts, interview and interrogation, and search and seizure.

Of course, this information would be beneficially promulgated through training even if not made part of a policy manual. Advice of local legal counsel is essential because of possible differences in state law and agency philosophy. No action should be taken solely in reliance on the information in this column.

Adherence to Law

Investigative procedures and associated uses of police authority often implicate individual rights protected by the U.S. Constitution, the state constitution, and various state laws. In order to investigate effectively and lawfully, officers must understand the relationship between police authority and individual rights, particularly in certain critical situations.

This order explains several of those relationships and situations. …