Interrogating Police Officers
60 Pages Posted: 27 Nov 2018 Last revised: 13 Aug 2019
Date Written: June 15, 2018
This Article evaluates the procedural protections given to police officers facing disciplinary interrogations about alleged misconduct. It demonstrates that state laws and collective bargaining agreements have insulated many police officers from the most successful interrogation techniques.
The first part of this Article builds on previous studies by analyzing a dataset of police union contracts and state laws that govern the working conditions of a substantial cross-section of large and medium sized municipal police departments in the United States. Many of these police departments provide officers with hours or even days of advanced notice before a disciplinary interrogation. An even larger percentage of these police departments require internal investigators to provide officers with copies of incriminating evidence before any interrogation. These protections exist in departments of all sizes, regardless of geographical location.
The second part of this Article relies on a national survey of American law enforcement leaders to evaluate whether these regulations frustrate officer accountability efforts. The overwhelming majority of the survey respondents claimed that these interrogation regulations substantially burden legitimate investigations into officer behavior. Virtually all survey respondents agreed that these protections do little to reduce the likelihood of false confessions.
Combined, this data paints a troubling picture of the internal procedures used to investigate and respond to officer misconduct. This data suggests that some states and municipalities have given police officers procedural protections that thwart internal investigations, thereby limiting officer accountability. This Article concludes by offering normative recommendations on how communities can reform interrogations of police officers so as to balance the community interest in accountability with officers’ interests in due process.
Keywords: interrogations, police accountability, policing, civil rights, internal investigations, garrity, police union contracts, law enforcement officers bills of rights
JEL Classification: K00, K1, K14, K30, K31, K4
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation