Month: September 2022

Be a great cop – do this!

WRITTEN BY: Captain Mike Schentrup (RET)

Let’s face it, 99% of our job is talking to people, whether its community contacts, victims or witness to a crime, confidential courses, and of course suspects.  Obviously, the better we can communicate, the better a cop we can become.  Its that simple.  You want to be great, learn to a great communicator.

I recently retired after 25 years at my department, most of those years spent in investigative units. I’ve conducted thousands of interviews and interrogations over those years. I’ve attended probably a dozen interview courses myself and I have taught several thousand cops how to conduct successful interrogations. 

Having said that, I always knew the secret of how to successfully interrogate. I understood that empathy is the “secret sauce” when it comes to being a great interrogator. The suspect had to believe that I was not judging them and they had to think that I understood what they were going through. Sometimes justifications were given to the suspect to allow them to say to themselves, “This detective gets it; he understands me.”

What I didn’t realize until later that empathy is the “secret sauce” in being a great communicator, period. And as I stated, if 99% of our job is communicating with others, than being great at it is pretty important.

Here’s a couple things you can start doing immediately to improve your empathy.

  • Start any communication with a victim, witness, and even a suspect with a empathetic statement, such as “I am sorry you are going through this” or maybe for the victim of a violent crime, “I am so sorry this happened to you and I want you to know you are safe now.”  Yes, you should even use these with suspects!  Empathetic statements instantly create a small connection and can open up the lines of communication.
  • Assume when someone is being short or discourteous to you, that they are experiencing a very bad day. The fact is we don’t know; they may have just left the hospital where their mom is on the ventilator. Or they about to evicted from their only place to live.  Let’s just everyone the benefit of the doubt. (BONUS:  It’ll make you a happier person overall!)
  • Let them talk.  Great communicators are great listeners. Now this is the hardest thing, especially for me.  And it can be tough for our understaffed patrol divisions, who are going call-to-call.  But when interviewing victims, witnesses, or suspects, take your time and let them talk.
  • Ask lots of open-ended questions.  Use phrases like, “tell me more about that” or “explain that more to me” to get more information. My buddy Jon Rappa call these “compellers” and I love the term. 

It’s not rocket science that people are going to want talk more with those they have a connection with. And in our job, we have to communicate with those who don’t trust the police or victims who maybe even reluctant to report their attack (i.e., victim of intimate partner violence).

If you want to be a great cop or if you’re the boss and you want a department of great cops, teach them these few tricks.  Send them to some good interview schools. There are some people who are innately empathetic, but for the rest of us, like me, we can learn.

Seven Reasons Officers Fail the FTO Program

WRITTEN BY: Lt. Wayne South (RET)

Field Training Officers serve as gatekeepers to your agency and the law enforcement profession.  They have a profound effect on their trainees and directly influence their success.  Trainees will report to training with varied degrees of experience, confidence, and knowledge.  Most new officers will be successful in the FTO program; however, there are a few that will not successfully complete the program.  The reasons vary and below is a short list (not inclusive) of reasons I have seen officers fail the FTO program.  Understanding these reasons will help your FTO’s prepare to overcome them.

  1. Report Writing

Report writing deficiencies are the toughest to correct.  There is a lot of material to cover during a typical FTO program with most varying in length from 10 to 16 plus weeks.  Simple mistakes can be corrected, but the basics taught in high school and/or college cannot be taught during a typical FTO program.  

Most officers do not realize the impact a well, or poorly, written incident report can have. A well written report establishes your reputation as a professional, who conducts thorough investigations, and can convey the results of the investigation in that report.  Conversely a poorly written report causes issues with your trainer, criminal cases are dismissed or pled to a lesser charge, and ultimately can lead to the trainee’s termination from the program.

  • Human Interaction

In today’s technologically driven society, most of your new officers will excel with technology but may struggle with face-to-face interaction.   This is a skill that may take some time for an FTO to develop in their trainee.  Technology is an excellent tool, but it does not allow for an officer to read body language, listen for tone in someone’s voice, or resolve conflict.  An officer who cannot interact with another person face-to-face will not be able to conduct thorough investigations, resolve conflict, or establish relationships/rapport.

  • Fear

Fear is a natural emotion that all new officers will experience in the training program and especially when responding to a high-risk call or confronted with a hostile individual. Fear surfaces in two forms; one, anxiety or the fear of failure and two, the fear of being injured.  How the officer controls their fear and performs while experiencing fear will make the difference between success or failing out of the FTO program.

Anxiety is natural and can be overcome.  The trainer should seek to pinpoint the source of anxiety and refocus their training efforts.  The trainer should ask and answer the “what if” questions and ask them to visualize success.  

A trainee who is afraid of being injured may hesitate to engage or not engage at all.  Although not impossible, it is going to be very tough for the trainee to overcome.  This fear may dimmish after their first physical confrontation. 

 FTO’s should seek out the “hot” calls to allow the recruit to improve their performance level while experiencing fear. Careful guidance by the FTO through this adaptive process ensures that officer safety is maintained, and the recruit can make sound decisions while under great stress.

  • Agency Selection of FTO’s

Good FTO’s should be results driven, professional, ethical, fair, motivated, and excellent communicators.  Bottom line is this, being a field training officer is a lot of work if you do it right. FTO’s should also have proven themselves at the agency for three to five years prior to selection. Normally this time frame provides enough information for an agency to evaluate their decision-making skills, attitude, and any disciplinary issues.  Agencies should invest a lot of time, training, and money into their FTO’s or else you have the untrained training the untrained. Failure to do so could result in an FTO recommending remedial, or termination, from the training program because of their own lack of job experience and training.

  • Lack of Creative Thinking

An FTO’s job is to train, educate, and guide a new officer through the FTO program.  It is also the FTO’s job to let them “struggle” on a call if officer safety is not an issue. This motivates the trainee, allows the trainee to problem solve, which improves their performance level as well as   their decision-making skills and confidence.       

  • Lack of Confidence

FTO’s should identify those areas in which the trainee is not confident.  Once these areas are identified, talk to the trainee about them and then create a plan for improvement.  If they are timid when talking to someone who is intoxicated and belligerent, it could be a lack of confidence in their defensive tactic’s skills.  Take them to the mat room to build confidence and skill.

Role play scenarios can help a trainee build confidence in making decisions and use of force.  If your agency has a video simulator, use it.  Scenario training should always be positive and build on their strengths while improving their weaknesses.

  • Poor Decision Making

Many times, this is a trainee’s lack of knowledge of department policies, state laws, and ordinances.   This should improve with time and training, and it is incumbent on the FTO to ensure they have a good knowledge base.   The FTO should constantly quiz the trainee on these topics.  The key is that the FTO stay on top of this daily and document improvement.

 Most officers make more decisions in one day than most people make in a week.  Some decisions will have a tremendous impact on someone’s life and officers must be able to decide, live with their decision, and have the confidence (knowledge) to know it was the right decision.

This is a short list of my observations over the years.  I am sure you can add many more.  I believe that if your FTO’s train professional, knowledgeable, and ethical officers then they are laying the groundwork for your future FTO’s.

For more great insights, check out the Southeastern Field Training Officers Association (SEFTOA).

Top Five Leadership Principles Every FTO Should Know

WRITTEN BY: Lt. Wayne South (RET)

Field Training Officer’s (FTO) have a tremendous impact on new officers which starts during their first interaction.   This interaction between trainer and trainee sets the stage for the culture of the organization and creates “buy-in” to the organization from the trainee.  But how much training as an agency is provided to our FTO’s prior to leading a new officer to success? I am not talking about training on hard skills such as driving, firearms, or defensive tactics, what I am talking about is leadership training and those soft skills that make FTO’s, and their trainees, successful. Although there are numerous leadership principles, there are five I think all FTO’s should know.

  1. Leadership is not about me

Leadership is about people and the ability to influence behavior to achieve personal and organizational goals.   The ability of the FTO to effectively communicate and engage the trainee in the learning process is essential.  The inability to communicate with a trainee only leads to frustration, mistakes, and the failure of a new officer.   I think what a lot of FTO’s fail to realize is that training takes teamwork.   The old style of training where the training officer did not talk to the trainee did not work then and it does not work now. 

Leadership is all about influencing human behavior to achieve personal and organizational goals. FTO’s should constantly work on improving relationships with those they work with, their interpersonal skills, and how they can improve at FTO’s.

  • Honesty

An FTO is a role model for a new officer.  The FTO must always be honest above reproach and have those difficult discussions with their trainees when performance is not acceptable. The same honesty we employ in our personal lives should also reflect in our profession.  A leader’s communication, oral or written, must always be honest, forthright, and avoid minimizing or exaggerating the topic at hand. 

Honesty is courage.  The courage to respectfully voice your opinion to a person of a higher rank and be very direct when needed.   Honestly is essential in any healthy training program and building trust.

  • Listen

Active listeners should listen more than they talk.  If you slow down and truly listen to what someone is saying it is amazing what we can learn.  Most of us listen with the intent to reply.  By learning to listen, pause and formulate a reply, then speaking, we not only learn the intellectual intent of the message but the emotional side of the message.  A good leader should strive to understand both.

  • As a leader we need to be human

We make mistakes.  Rank, whether positional or referent, does not make us perfect.  A good leader, and a good FTO, uses these mistakes as learning opportunities. Leaders who are honest about their shortfalls start earning the respect of those they work around. 

I was a field training officer for a long time.  I sought to learn from each trainee.  We all want to be the best training officers and leaders we can be, but sometimes the trainee will know more about a topic than we do.  Learn from it….

  • Never stop improving yourself

A good leader never stops the learning process.  Always seek out information which will improve our ability to better influence behavior (i.e., leadership).  To improve ourselves professionally we should know the departments mission statement and organizational goals. Personally, and professionally, we can improve ourselves by reading, listen to podcasts, take classes, attend leadership training. 

Leadership is a lot of work if you want to do it right.  Most of us are not born leaders, however with just a little effort you will start seeing results and being more confident in your role. 

For more great insights, check out the Southeastern Field Training Officers Association (SEFTOA).

7 Way to Build Trust with your Squad

WRITTEN BY: Captain Mike Schentrup (RET)

I have always said that the most important leadership attribute is trust. Of course I am not alone, many authors and experts have given trust the nod as the most important thing a leader can have with their team. But that begs the question, how do you build trust? The following are seven things you can do every day to build trust with your team.

  1. Be Present:  Be seen by your team working day in and day out, just as hard as they are. If they stay late, you stay with them. If it’s raining and your subordinate is working a traffic crash, get out there with them.  Share in the misery. And when the time is right, jump in as a teammate and not the boss. Believe me, your employees will take notice and love you for it,
  2. Keep Commitments:  If you say you’re going to do something, then do it. It seems simple, but it’s not. How many times has a boss promised to look over a travel or training request and you never hear another thing about it?  Commitments with your team are just like any commitments with your spouse or children. Once you commit, then do it!
  3. Build Relationships: Trust is the foundation of any relationship and relationships are the foundation of a great teams. As bosses, we have to know about the needs, wants, and desires of our teammates. What do they treasure most? Is it their family, their puppy, the job? How can we help them live their best lives if we don’t know anything about them? So, get to know your teammates.
  4. Seek First to Understand: This was something written by Steven Covey and it rings true as ever. Trust is built when we truly listen to our employees. Most of us listen just enough to formulate a response, without ever really understanding what the person is trying to convey. The tool of empathetic listening is like a superpower. It definitely takes practice, but you can do it and watch your trust account grow exponentially with your team!
  5. Deliver Results: When trying to build trust up the chain, with your boss, nothing is more vital that getting the job done and done well. When your team delivers results, your agency’s executives will take notice. And when the time comes for you to ask for some specialized training for a member of your team, the bosses say “no problem.”
  6. Extend Trust:  As a supervisor, you must extend trust to your team in order to build trust with them. By extending trust, you treat your team like the professionals they are. Let them go an execute the plan, don’t hover and micromanage any situations. And sometimes, even let them fail (as long as it’s not a safety issue). And once they fail, use it as a coaching moment and build them back up. We want our teammates to be critical thinkers, so failing sometimes is part of that. Once they know, you trust them to do the job and you don’t get on them for a small failure, your team will flourish with new and innovative ideas.
  7. Admit Mistakes and Apologize:  I believe this might be the biggest trust builder of all. Bosses that can admit when they were wrong demonstrate humility toward their team. It also shows the team, it’s OK not to be right all the time and no one will hold it against you for admitting failure. This safe environment to fail is vital for building strong teams. And if your mistake affected another person, then apologize. If the mistake was made in public, then apologize in public. Remember, humility is a strength!

High trust teams have incredible communication between members. Why, because the members all know there is no hidden agendas when questions are asked or tasked are distributes. It’s just time to go to work.  Now go out and use these 7 tools to build your own high trust team!

The 3 most common defense strategies

WRITTEN BY : Captain Mike Schentrup (RET)

I think defense attorneys all go to the same school or follow the same Facebook page.  I say this because when it comes to defense strategies during a criminal trial, it usually boils down to the same three.  Now they use these three because they are somewhat effective, but usually they use them because their client is guilty, and we (cops) give them tons of examples to use during trial.  Now let’s take a look at them.

Normally, the defense uses one, two, or all three of these following strategies.

  1. The cops didn’t follow protocol or were flat out sloppy in their investigation.  This is an easy one for most defense teams because we sometimes take shortcuts.  Not shortcuts in an illegal or immoral way, but we’re busy and we just make things a little simpler for ourselves.  One of the main examples of this is not writing case supplements or not ensuring everyone in the chain of custody of evidence is properly documented.  Things like this are just fodder for the defense.  During their closing arguments, the defense attorney may say something like, “These examples of sloppy police work are just the ones we were able to uncover; we’re not even sure how many more mistakes the police made during this so-called investigation.”
  2. The police lied to cover up their sloppy investigation or worse to frame my client.  If you’ve sat in on closing arguments from a defense attorney, then you’ve heard them call you a liar.  Some attorney’s more brazen than others.  Usually, the lie is about how you conducted or documented your investigation.  An example might be you interviewed a crucial witness but forgot to write it in your report. I’ve done this and it was an honest mistake, but how does this look to a jury.  And how can the defense spin this to the jury.  “So detective, you want the jury to believe you had this vital conversation with the witness, but you never documented it?”
  3. The cops focused solely on my client from the start.  This is a very common defense strategy and for good reason. We normally have a pretty good suspect early on in our investigations; however, this is a danger too.  We must show our investigations are impartial and we looked at all evidence; even evidence that showed our suspect may not be guilty (i.e. an alibi).

No one used these defense strategies better than OJ Simpson’s legal dream team during his trail for double murder in the early 1990’s.  They were remarkable and were able to get OJ acquitted even though there was overwhelming evidence of his guilt.

Now that you know the strategies, be careful not to feed into them. Be thorough in your investigation and write great investigative police reports.  Document as much as you can on audio and video and keep your chain of custody for evidence really tight.

If you want to learn more, I talk about all of these and go more in-depth in each in my webinar, Homicide Mistake and Pitfalls; How to Avoid Them.

5 Types of Difficult Trainees and Tips on Effective Training

WRITTEN BY: Captain Robert Fanelli

One of the most important skills a trainer can have is the ability to adjust and adapt the training environment to the trainee. I will always argue that our goal as trainers is to provide the “best chance” for success to our trainees by giving the best training experience possible. In my years of training I have found that there are some categories of what we will call “difficult trainees”. So what are they and how do we adjust our training for success:

  • The Know-It-All Trainee– They seem confident and knowledgeable however they are tough to train because they think they have all the answers already. The trouble with this trainee is that they have an attitude of arrogance which puts up roadblocks to learning.
    • It is important that you allow this trainee to experience failure and capitalize on mistakes as learning opportunities. Focus on their decision making process and go beyond the actual decision asking them often, “Why did you decide to do that?” 
  • The Unconfident Trainee– In police work this type of trainee makes up for their lack of confidence by being rude or overly aggressive.
    • This requires a focus on empathy based training and ethics. This requires a major attitude adjustment and needs to be addressed immediately.
  • The Distracted Trainee– This type of trainee brings their home-life troubles to the job. A resulting symptom becomes difficulty communicating and concentrating that results in a Failure to Respond to Training issue.
    • Goal-setting is a critical task when responding to this type of trainee. Establish clear, simple, and achievable goals to help this type of training see their accomplishments, become goal oriented and improve their focus.
  • The Processor– This type of trainee internalizes the learning process and shows signs of “slow learning”. Their “slow learning” is not because they are unintelligent, distracted, or uncaring but it is quite the opposite. Their “slow learning” is because they are thinking through each concept taught and are being intentional in their learning of new ideas and concepts.
    • You have to be patient with this type of trainee because they often become very good employees.  Focus on the structure of training and expose them to different types of teaching techniques hitting on cognitive and sensory forms of learning styles.
  • The One Task Trainee– This type of training is overwhelmed by multi-tasking. In law enforcement this may result in officer safety issues simply because they can’t focus on investigating and maintaining tactical advantages at the same time.
    • This type of trainee should be exposed to scenario based training. Scenarios should be structured with singular goals in mind and conducted in a step-by-step approach. Focus on one element of the scenario at a time before moving to the next step.

Seek to understand the root of your trainee’s problems and work to adjust training- this is the mark of an excellent trainer. I hope this article adds to your trainer playbook. If you have other experiences, thoughts and training hacks please share!

For more great insights, check out the Southeastern Field Training Officers Association (SEFTOA).

5 tips to improve your report writing

WRITTEN BY: Captain Robert Fanelli

As a supervisor in both patrol and detectives, as well as, an instructor of report writing, I have had the opportunity to read and discuss ways to improve thousands of police reports. Over the years I have seen the same opportunities for improved report writing. Realize, if you are looking to improve your report writing, the first step is to identify two or three weaknesses you can focus on and work to improve upon them. Improving is a progression, not a single moment. Work on the weaknesses you have identified then once you feel good about the progress, identify other ways to get better. Here are the top five tips for improving your reports.

  1. The basics:  Spelling, grammar, and sentence structure are boring and may seem like a small thing, but a report riddled with mistakes simply reduces your credibility in the eyes of those that read the report. It also makes the report difficult to read. The most common mistakes that you can do a simple web search on and start mastering are: When to use a new paragraph, verb tense, passive versus active voice, run-on sentences, and wordiness. Reports should be in active voice, first person, categorical and chronological, and succinct. When structuring your sentence KEEP IT SIMPLE!
  • Avoid police jargon: This comes down to knowing who the audience of a police report is. So, who is the audience? Well, the list is extensive: supervisors, detectives, advocates, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, media, community…the list goes on. Think about your report as a form of communication to a wide array of audience members. Pay attention to and leave out words and phrases that are unique to your agency and the profession.
  • Details, Details, Details:  Have you ever viewed your report in the eyes of an attorney? Do you write your report with enough detail and explanation to move past probable cause and see down the road to successful prosecution? Your report should provide enough detail that a mental picture can be formed in the mind of the reader. If you make a declarative observation, follow it up with detail. For example, the statement, “The suspect’s actions caused me concern for lives and property in the area.” This should be followed up with a description of what those actions were, “The suspect avoided using sidewalks and kept to dark areas…as vehicles approached the suspect hid in the shadows or concealed himself in vegetation…the suspect was wearing dark clothing”. You get the picture.
  • Describe Modus Operandi:  Modus Operandi or MO simply put is criminal habits. People are creatures of habit and habitual behaviors show up in criminals. For example, burglars who kick in doors, don’t crawl through windows and robbers who point a gun at the clerk, use profanity, and threaten to shoot, don’t ask politely for the money on the next robbery. Generally speaking, criminals may adjust their behavior if they feel like something isn’t working, but once they feel comfortable, they will stick to a routine. You should be working to describe that “routine” with enough detail to link cases. Answer things like MOT (mode of travel), clothing, POE (point of entry), POX (point of exit), weapon, behavior, location, objects of theft and things that are unique to habitual behavior.
  • Get good at victim and witness interviews: Most police reports begin with a victim or witness interview. Simply put, we need to get statements to establish a crime.  Without a doubt, understanding trauma and memory will help you improve upon your interview skills. Stop looking at your interviews as a checklist of information you need to gather and start looking at them as a way to work collaboratively and cooperatively to elicit the best recollection from victims and witnesses. Structure your interviews to allow victims and witnesses to focus on what they are able to remember. If you work to elicit accurate detailed information and view an interview as a process, not an event, you will get more detail. This will result in a better investigation and that will lead to a better report. 

Captain Rob Fanelli is currently an operations commander at the Gainesville Police Department. Prior to his promotion to captain, he was the Criminal Investigations Division Commander. He has 18 years of law enforcement experience with a diverse career. He has supervised and worked in Robbery/Homicide, Sexual Assault, ICAC, Domestic Violence, and the Forensic Units. He is an IACP and RTI consultant and is currently a Johns Hopkins Fellow in the School of Public Health.


WRITTEN BY: Captain Mike Schentrup (RET)

Originally published in American Police Beat in 2019

In the last decade, much has been written about positive leadership and how joyful, optimistic leaders are more successful with their teams; but how does this look in the day-to-day routine operations of a police department?  How can Lieutenants, Captains, and Chiefs make their departments a place where everyone wants to come to work?  Can we make a police department a joyful place to work?  I believe the answer is yes. 

Being a cop is a tough, stressful job to begin with.  More so than ever, cops are under a microscope from the media and the public.  Departments across the country have staffing problems and overall morale is low.  Numerous surveys suggest that police officers get more stress from internal issues, than external.  Let’s put a real-life example to this:  most cops would rather respond to an active shooter than be called back to the station by their Lieutenant!  If you told this to a civilian, they would never believe it.

Let’s look at five easy area Command can effect immediately to drive up morale.

  1.  Shift Briefings – most departments start their workday with a short shift briefing. I’ve known plenty of cops who would tell me this is the worst 20 minutes of their day. How is this possible?  I’ve heard it said that patrol officers feel most helpless and powerless the moment they walk into the briefing room. This is the time where another management directive will be cast upon them.  Shift briefings must be light and joyful. Information should be relayed and sometimes frank discussions should be had, but how can we send our front-line folks out to meet the public after the worst 20 minutes of their day?  This is low hanging fruit.  Work with your shift/watch commanders. Encourage positive shift briefings.  Limits “class spanks” (we’ll discuss these next).  Commend in public those who did well and talk to those privately after who need some coaching.  Debrief critical incidents constructively and let the team make their own observations. Normally they will hit all the good points along with the areas where improvement can come. Commanders are there to listen and move the conversation.
  2. “Class-Spanks” – we’ve all been in the room, when the boss starts off with, “Hey, no big deal, but we’ve had a few complaints of cops speeding along Highway 40.  Please slow down.”  This is the quintessential class spank.  A wise sergeant gave me some great advice early on about class spanks; they don’t work.  Here’s why.  The ones you were trying to get the message to probably weren’t paying attention to begin with and the good officers who were paying attention now think the admonishment was meant for them. This goes for email class-spanks too.   Do we really think marginal employees read the emails that are not specifically directed at them?  Coaching and corrective action should always be one-on-one.   Command staff should NEVER conduct a class spank in briefing.  Leave these comments to your shift/watch commanders.  Again, is this easy; no, because class spanks are easy.  But creating a positive environment takes work on the part of Command.
  3. Emails – there should be an entire book written about this, and if fact, I bet there is.  We already spoke about class-spanks should never be conducted by email.  I will concede email is effective at reaching a large audience, but who are you actually reaching?  Secondly, email is the definition of one-way communication. There is no inflection, no way to read sarcasm, and no way to ultimately convey a tough message.  Face-to-face is the best.  It allows true two-way communication (remember, 80% of communication is nonverbal).  I know this is not always possible, so a phone call is next best.
  4. Knee-Jerk Reactions – there is nothing more demotivating for front-line officers than the perceived knee-jerk reaction.  We all know this.  “Johnny screwed up so the City Commission has mandated training for everyone.”  To the line personnel, there is usually no rhyme or reason to the change or they believe it is a knee jerk reaction to misguided public sentiment.  The IACP puts on a great training course called Leadership in Police Organizations.  One of the main points I took from it is that MOST, I mean almost all, decisions do not have to be made really fast. And, you will learn that any decision that is well thought out will be a better decision.  So please slow it down.  Think about how any decision will affect real people, both sworn and non-sworn.
  5. Servant Leadership – finally to be a positive leader, one must be a servant leader. Leaders must serve the ones they lead.  This is not counterintuitive.  We are responsible for providing those we lead with the things they need.  Always take the time to listen to you team.  Listen to each one.  Sometimes they want to vent.  And your main job is to listen and maybe help them understand that sometimes there is a bigger picture.  Most of your folks just want to be heard.  Never ask them to do a job that you wouldn’t do yourself.  In fact, the more menial the task, the more important it is that your folks see you performing it.

Although I call these five things low-hanging-fruit, they are not easy.  They take time and effort, but you took the job of a leader and now you must live up to it.  Procedural Justice teaches us that employees who feel like they are treated well by their leaders are more likely to treat the public well. Maybe if we treat our line-officers better and they feel valued, they would pass this on to the community they serve?  Seems easy to me.

10 Trauma Informed Tips for Patrol Officers

Written by: Captain Mike Schentrup (RET)

  1. Start with empathetic statement— “I’m sorry this happened to you.”
  2. Start by believing – have a “believe first then investigate mentality”
  3. Communicate to the victim that they are safe.
  4. Never ask WHY – these questions are by their nature judgmental and can be asked later.
  5. No need to challenge the account – this can be done after an investigation is completed, if necessary.
  6. Get basic facts, establish elements of crime, need for forensic and medical exam, crime scene, witnesses, suspects?
  7. Don’t make contact with the suspect until CID has an investigative strategy – detectives may want to compete a controlled phone call with the suspect.
  8. Get certified sexual assault program advocate involved right away!
  9. Don’t write anything that can damage the investigation:  “inconsistent,” “withholding information,” “lied about …”
  10. Never accept a complaint withdrawal or a prosecution refused form. It is too early for this.

These are 10 easy steps command staff can use to guide their patrol officers or deputies to a more trauma informed response.

Confessions of a Major Case Detective

Written by: Captain Mike Schentrup (RET)

Originally published in American Police Beat in 2017, when he was a Lieutenant over the Criminal Investigations Division

I currently serve as the Commander of the Criminal Investigations Division of a medium size agency in a college town and most of my career has been spent working investigations.  I began as a robbery/homicide detective in 2003.  Although robberies and homicides made up most of my caseload, I’d pick-up a sexual battery periodically while working a night shift rotation or on call-out. 

I will admit there were many times where the victim’s veracity seemed poor.  Their stories were inconsistent, they left out core details, or they waited several days to report.  As a well-trained interviewer, these were the classic signs of deception.  Although I never actually called them a liar, I never worked the case as hard as I should have.  I figured it was a case of morning after regret or their current boyfriend was making them report. 

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Fast forward to 2016, I’m now the boss over the special victim’s unit, as well as, other major case squads.  I attended a two-day training with Russell Strand*, the US Army Investigator who developed the FETI (Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview) process and speaks widely on the neurobiology of trauma.  This was quite an “Aha” moment for me.  It became clear that all the classic signs of deception I had learned throughout my career was completely normal for a victim of trauma.  The inconsistent statements and lack of core details should be expected.  None of these were signs of deception. 

On top of that, the suspects are usually much more believable since they were not suffering the effects of trauma.  I learned I should also accept that MOST victims will delay their report somewhat, due to feelings of shame and embarrassment.  Needless to say, my current squad of SVU detectives also knows this and they are second to none at helping survivors of sexual assault.

Not long after Strand’s training, we had a case that became a sounding board for me.  Here it is…

There was a young college co-ed, about 18 years old, who I will call Mary.  Mary went to a local college bar and began to drink.  She met a guy there who I will call Sam.  They drank and danced and were having fun.  They kissed a little and then Sam asked her to go to his car to “make-out.”  Mary reluctantly agreed but said that all she would do is kiss because she had never had sex. 

Unfortunately, Mary was raped in the back seat of Sam’s car. 

As Sam drove her home, he struck a curb which attracted the attention of a nearby officer.  The officer attempted to conduct a traffic stop, believing the driver (Sam) to be a possible drunk driver; however, Sam fled in his vehicle, driving a few blocks away, and then running from the car.  As the officer approached the car, he saw Mary crying uncontrollable in the back seat.  She told the officer she had been raped.  Sam was eventually captured and charged with sexually battery.

This seems cut-and-dry, which is it, but let me pose the alternative: 

Instead of being intercepted by the police for possibly driving drunk, Sam took Mary to her home and dropped her off.  This is a much more likely scenario.  The odds are Mary would have waited a couple days to report it, due to shame and embarrassment.  Her account would be inconsistent due to the trauma and alcohol.  In the past, I would have suspected she was “regretting” her decision to make her first sexual encounter in the back seat of a car behind a local bar.  With his lack of trauma, Sam would have come to the station and given a perfectly clear account of meeting a girl in a college bar and “hooking up” with her out in his car.

This case was another “Aha” moment for me…because ten years ago, I had a case very similar to this. 

I now regret how I handled those cases early in my career; however, the science was not clear and there was no training in this area.  We know only 20% of victims of rape do actually report to law enforcement and we know most suspects re-offend multiple times, so we have very few chances to catch the predator.  Now that we know all these things, we must do a better job.  First for the survivor we are working with and to protect others from being victims in the future.

*Russell W. Strand is currently the Chief of the U.S. Army Military Police School Family Advocacy Law Enforcement Training Division