Internal affairs (law enforcement)

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The internal affairs (United States terminology) refers to a division of a law enforcement agency that investigates incidents and plausible suspicions of lawbreaking and professional misconduct attributed to officers on the force. Internal affairs can also refer to cases of misconduct and criminal behavior involving police officers. In different systems, internal affairs can go by other names such as "Internal Investigations Division" (usually referred to as 'IID'), "professional standards," "inspectorate general", Office of Professional Responsibility or similar. Non-internal affairs officers often derisively refer to the departments as the "rat squad".[1]

Due to the sensitive nature of this responsibility, in many departments, officers employed in an internal affairs unit are not in a detective command, but report directly to the agency's chief, or to a board of civilian police commissioners. Several police departments in the USA have been compelled to institute civilian review or investigation of police misconduct complaints in response to community perception that internal affairs investigations are biased in favor of police officers. For example, San Francisco, California, has its Office of Citizen Complaints, created by voter initiative in 1983, in which civilians who have never been members of the San Francisco Police Department investigate complaints of police misconduct filed against members of the San Francisco Police Department. Washington, DC, has a similar office, created in 1999, known as the Office of Police Complaints.[2]

Internal Affairs investigators are bound by stringent rules when conducting their investigations. In California, the Peace Officers Bill of Rights (POBR) is a mandated set of rules found in the Government Code.[3]

Internal affairs function and controversies[edit]

The sole purpose to having an internal affairs unit is to investigate and find the truth to what occurred when an officer is accused of misconduct.[4] The internal affairs function is not an enforcement function, but rather a policing function that works to report only. The concept of internal affairs is very broad and unique to each police department. [5] An investigation can do more than shine light on a police issue involving misconduct, but can also give insight on a policy itself that may have issues. Many controversies arise, especially among the Civilian Review Boards because an officer investigating police misconduct may show favoritism and/or hold grudges particularly when a single officer is conducting the investigation. [4] Some departments hire uninvolved officers or include another department or a special unit to conduct investigation.

The investigation[edit]

The investigation of police officer[s] misconduct is conducted by the Internal Affairs Unit, executive police officer, or any other outside agency. The circumstances of the complaint determines who will be investigating the complaint.[4] In the Salt Lake City Police Department, the Civilian Review Board will also investigate the complaint, but they will do so independently. Complaints involving police misuse of force will be brought to the Civilian Review Board, but citizens can request the committee to investigate any other issues of misconduct. In the state of Utah, the Internal Affairs Devision must properly file a complaint before the committee can officially investigate. [6] When the investigation the begins, everything is documented and all employees, complainants, and witnesses are interviewed. Any physical evidence is analyzed and past behaviors of all involved, especially the officer in question, is reviewed. Dispatch tapes, police reports, tickets, audio, and videotapes are all reviewed if available. [7]

Small Agencies[edit]

Larger agencies have the resources to have separate units for internal affairs, but smaller agencies do not have the luxury. Small agencies are more abundant than some may realize with 87% of police departments employer 25 or fewer sworn officers. Smaller agencies that do not have sufficient resources may have the executive officer, the accused's supervisor, or another police department to conduct an investigation. The state police may also be asked to investigate criminal behavior, but they do not deal in minor misconduct or rule violation cases. Allowing another department to investigate can result in lower morale because it can appear as an admission that the department cannot handle their own affairs. [7]


  1. ^ New York Times article "N.Y.P.D. Confidential"
  2. ^ D.C. Office of Police Complaints
  3. ^ Text of "Peace Officers Bill of Rights" - Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC)
  4. ^ a b c Kelly, S.F. (2003). Internal Affairs. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 72(7), 1.
  5. ^ Hein, J. (2013). Inside internal affairs: An in depth look at the people, process, & politics. Flushing, NY: Looseleaf Law Publications.
  6. ^ Kunz, C. "Management Services Bureau". Salt Lake City Police Department. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  7. ^ a b Courtney, K.M. (1996). Internal affairs in the small agency. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin., 65(9), 12.

See also[edit]