If I had to point to one of the most common mission-undermining oversights among state, local and large transit law enforcement agencies today, I wouldn’t hesitate. I would point to how the agency addresses disciplinary matters – and whether it has a standing committee comparable in one way or another to what we often refer to at Hillard Heintze as a Disciplinary Review Panel (DRP).

Disciplinary Review Panels Serve a Critical Role

Here’s what I’m talking about. Any time an investigation sustains a charge that could involve a higher degree of punishment (e.g., a three-day suspension or greater), a best practice in policing is to have that investigation reviewed and a recommendation made for potential sanctions by a Disciplinary Review Panel. While these review processes can be designed in a variety of ways, there are a few key elements that ensure the effectiveness of a Disciplinary Review Panel.

  • Departmental Participation: Typically, a DRP includes the supervisor and command officers in the subject officer’s chain of command up to and including the Chief, as well as the internal affairs and training units’ commanders.
  • Civilian Representation: In some cases, panel participants can include representatives from the human resources, labor relations and legal departments. This gives these important internal constituents an opportunity to weigh in on the disciplinary recommendations that the panel makes to the Chief.
  • Scope of Activity: The panel conducts formal discussion on internal affairs case findings and makes disciplinary recommendations to the Chief, who should be present.
  • Drivers of the Recommendations: These recommendations take into account the circumstances of the case, the subject employee’s past disciplinary record and work history, and the discipline precedence established in similar cases.
  • Confidentiality: It is essential that these discussions remain strictly confidential out of respect to the subject officer. A best practice, in this regard, is to have participants sign confidentiality statements.

Benefits for All of a Police Department’s Stakeholders

Transparency and fairness are vital. And a best-practice disciplinary review panel advances every stakeholder’s interests – from the state, city, municipality or transit system to the general public and their legal representatives as well as the officers themselves.

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