By John Fuller, Curriculum Writer, Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions, Woodstock, Maryland
he staff inspection process is an administrative system that should be used by law enforcement agencies to conduct internal inspections and audits to ensure that agency units and personnel are in compliance with established policies and procedures.
A staff inspection when done correctly is a favorably proactive practice. The purpose is to uncover potential problems and develop solutions within the agency’s scope of operations before the problems reach proportions that negatively affect the department and its personnel and before the problems generate negative media attention and community criticism. There are six objectives of a staff inspection:
• To determine whether the department’s procedures and policies being properly implemented
• To determine whether the department’s procedures and policies are adequate to attain the department’s goals
• To determine whether the department’s resources (such as personnel) are being used fully and sensibly
• To determine whether the department’s resources are adequate to attain the department’s goals
• To discover any deficiencies in integrity, training, morale, or supervision1
• To help operating line units plan their line inspections2
The staff inspection complements and augments the line inspection function that consists of the daily inspections of personnel and equipment conducted by supervisors and unit commanders. The staff inspection process does not replace the line inspection requirement.
In large law enforcement agencies, staff inspections are generally a separate entity consisting of sworn members, usually all supervisors, with a commensurate civilian support staff. In smaller agencies staff inspection can be handled by a single sworn officer, preferably a mature and experienced supervisor, and staff inspection can be a part-time function. In either format—unit or individual—the staff inspection process should always report directly to the chief or agency head. This oversight responsibility of the chief is particularly critical, as it validates the independence and objectivity of the inspection process.
Basically, staff inspections are conducted of both line and staff operations in a law enforcement agency. Ideally, the focus should be on how things are being done, not necessarily on the people who are doing them. This latter distinction is very important, as it detracts from the common perception that staff inspections is a spy operation whose sole purpose is to inform on personnel shortcomings to the chief and the command staff.
Benefits of Inspection
The staff inspection process can tell the chief how department policies and directives are being carried out. It can observe operational procedures both on the street and in the unit facilities and report on their effectiveness or their shortcomings. It can audit financial records, inventory agency property, inspect equipment, and conduct surveys.
Essentially, staff inspections—done conscientiously and objectively—can be the eyes and ears of the chief executive. Given a reasonable degree of enlightened independence, the inspection process can also deliver the occasional bad news that chiefs really need to know at certain critical points in their administration, whether they like hearing it or not.
Types of Inspection
There are basically two types of inspection: random surprise inspections and regularly scheduled, or periodic, inspections.
In the staff inspection process, the random surprise inspection will serve little value. The surprise will only last a short period of time and the superficial items, such as orderliness or cleanliness of area, can be spruced up quickly. It is best to leave these issues to the line inspection of the supervisors. The issue of orderliness may be addressed in the scheduled inspection protocol, but most likely it will deal with process issues and appropriate storage capacity rather than sloppiness of staff.
If the surprise spot-check inspection process is used, its focus should be on a distinct identifiable problem or deficiency or on assuring compliance with specific directives, procedures, policies, or guidelines.
Periodic inspections are scheduled in advance and the unit to be inspected receives prior notice of the inspection. The inspection addresses items that are for the most part a matter of record.
The effectiveness and integrity of the staff inspection process depends on the selection of inspection personnel. Ideally, officers selected for this assignment should be at least first-line supervisors. Preferably, staff inspectors should have quality street experience, along with sufficient time in patrol assignments, to enable them to acutely understand and appreciate the problems and stresses typically encountered by the working street officer. The inspectors should also have ample experience in conducting independent investigations with little or no supervision.
Maturity is required, as is a tolerant and balanced mindset. Each staff inspector needs a strong sense of personal integrity and a relatively clean disciplinary record. He or she should be an organization-first person, loyal to the agency, to colleagues, and to bosses. Excellent personal communication skills are required. Each staff inspector must be capable of dealing reasonably with people in and out of the agency, in a considerate and equitable manner.
Staff inspectors must be capable of articulating, both verbally and in writing, the direction and progress as well as the results of their work. The culmination of a staff inspection is a written report to the chief explaining the results of the inquiry. The report must conclude with a recommendation for remedial action. It is not enough to merely describe the problem; the inspectors must be knowledgeable in operational and management techniques to report corrective measures or offer a list of viable options for consideration. To do so, the inspectors need to have knowledge of and experience with the unit’s operational field to be able to conduct the inspection.
A staff inspections assignment can be an excellent opportunity for supervisors aspiring to administrator and management positions. Because of the scope and breadth of a staff inspection program, it can be one of the best learning experiences in law enforcement.
The Inspection Process
When a scheduled inspection is being conducted the inspectors and the chief of police should meet to review any ongoing concerns. The chief needs to clearly state the objectives and the process for the inspection. This meeting will establish to all persons the chief’s interest in and support of the inspection process.
After the meeting, the inspectors should meet with the commander or supervisor of the unit being inspected. The objectives are (1) to make sure the unit understands the inspection process and (2) to establish a cooperative environment for the process. A properly established environment will bring about cooperation especially if the needs of the unit, either equipment or personnel, will be identified in the process.
The inspection must be organized, formal, and specific to the unit being inspected. To ensure success, inspectors must develop a protocol for conducting the inspection that describes the process for interviewing personnel; identifies the percentage of records, actions, or items that will be inspected; and includes a checklist to organize the process.
Inspection Protocol: The staff inspection protocol will typically involve direct observation of work; evaluation of observed work process as compared to the department’s policies, procedures, and directives; external reference materials and resources; and personal interviews of staff. The complete process must be impartial and constructive and the inspectors must convey this attitude during the inspection procedure.
Staff Interviews: When the inspection process includes interviews with department personnel, certain guidelines need to be followed.
• Personal interviews of department personnel remain confidential, and the persons are not identified in the report.
• Any information obtained from personal interviews that cannot be corroborated by independent facts may be included in the final report, but must be accompanied with an advisory indicating that the information could not be independently verified.
• Any person within an organizational component being inspected may request a private interview with the inspection team and all information obtained shall be considered confidential.
The Inspection Report
Once the field survey is completed, all interviews, observations, tests, and records reviewed need to be consolidated into a report for the chief. The report must be a useful document that provides constructive observations for improvement. It must clearly establish the protocol followed, the results obtained, the standard used for measuring the results, and conclusion of compliance or noted areas for improvements.
Not only must the inspection report note areas of improvement it should also include credit for the unit or personnel where their actions are particularly good or exemplary.
A part of the inspection process is to determine any existing weakness in the department’s policies, procedures, regulations, and practices. If these weaknesses exist, the operating units are well aware of the deficiencies and have found ways to work around them. In this manner, the inspection process is a look also at how the department expects the units to function and, if this expectation is not working, how it should be fixed.
The contents of the report must be kept in strict confidence and originally only provided to the chief. Once the inspectors have completed their job, they should not discuss or comment on the findings unless asked to do so by the chief.
The chief will review the report and accept it or refer it back to the inspectors for clarification. Once the report is accepted, the chief will discuss the report with the commander or supervisor of the unit inspected.
There are two options available now on releasing the findings of the inspection: keep the report confidential, or share it with others.
One school of thought is to keep the internal inspection report confidential between the chief and the head of the unit. When preparing the report, the inspectors need to identify both the ideal solutions and the workable solutions to problem areas. Although the ideal solution is the goal, in the budget process other considerations could preclude the funding of this solution. As such, recommending an unattainable goal that cannot be supported by the budget will only develop unrealistic expectations by the unit. Some executives feel that release of the report to employees and other government officials will only serve to raise unrealistic expectations for solutions or to embarrass some personnel.
Another school of thought is that most likely the unit already knows the problem and the ideal solution and realistically knows what the budget can support. Releasing the report to employees and acknowledging that a problem does exist while seeking workable solutions is a reasonable approach. In this case the executives believe that what is important is that employees work toward a solution.
However the report is released, the chief must share the report with the unit supervisor. When deficiencies are noted a process of improvement must be formally established for implementation. At 30-, 60-, and 90-day intervals the supervisor must report on the progress of the improvement implementation plan. The staff inspectors are also available to verify progress of the improvements.
What to Inspect
Although every unit and activity of the department needs to be inspected, certain areas need regularly scheduled attention.
Human Resources: The inspection process can evaluate any member of the unit, sworn or civilian, for appearance, conduct, possession of required and proper equipment, ability to use the equipment and materials, job knowledge, performance, integrity, and morale.
Included in this review of human resources is staffing. The inspection process should determine whether the work area is properly staffed to accomplish its mission. Only sworn officers can handle certain positions, while civilian employees may be better suited for other positions.
If personnel are assigned to a specialized unit, staff inspection can determine whether the special unit is still necessary. If it is not, then evaluation will need to state that the initial problem or condition that required the implementation of a special unit no longer exists and that personnel can be assigned to other pressing duties.
Crime Reporting and Statistics: The department is expected to provide complete and accurate crime reports and statistics. Although there should already be a report review process in place, an audit during the inspection process is also important to establish that the crime reports and statistics are accurate.
The line inspection process of reviewing reports is an essential part of recordkeeping and helps determine the quality of police service provided to the community. At a minimum the officer writing the report needs to ensure it is thorough, accurate, complete, and eligible. The officer’s supervisor needs to review the report, direct the report writer to correct any discrepancies, and indicate approval of the report by signing it. At another stage of the review process, the unit commander, records personnel, or a specialized report review officer should also review the report. Any noted incompleteness or discrepancies should be referred back to the officer.
The goal of the review process is to ensure that police reports are timely and contain correct and complete information. Report review is a valuable management tool for a police department.
The importance of the police reporting system makes it a priority item for the staff inspection. The most direct inspection method is to take a sampling of recent crime and incident reports and then personally contact the victims or reporting persons. The inspectors should ask the complainant to repeat exactly what they told the reporting officer. By going over every element of a selected percentage of reports, the staff inspector can establish how thoroughly staff members are handling calls for service. The inspector can uncover inaccurate, misleading reports as well as those instances where serious crime is downgraded or there is a failure to follow through on a criminal offense. Experience has shown, for instance, that reportedly minor altercations may instead actually be aggravated assaults, that reported vandalism may resemble burglary, and that reported thefts may look suspiciously like robberies. These incidents can be discovered through the staff inspection process and corrective action taken.
Following through on the report of police action is also a good method for tracing the handling of evidence and property. If evidence was collected or the complainant reports that property was secured by the police, tracing the handling of these items from collection at the scene to final disposition will determine whether the property and evidence handling system is working correctly.
Evidence Handling and Storage: The staff inspection must include the adherence to policies, procedures, and guidelines for collecting, identifying, receiving, preserving, documenting, transferring, storing, and disposing of physical evidence and found and recovered nonevidentiary property. Of importance is the proper recording of every person entering into the evidence storage area and those who handle the evidence to ensure proper chain of custody. The inspection process will include review of the evidence, handling procedures, records, disposition, and storage facilities. Ten percent of evidence needs to be followed from collection to storage to use in court to final disposition. The storage facilities’ security must be tested during the inspection process.
Although it is necessary to retain evidence, it is also necessary to dispose of property and destroy evidence. During the inspection it should be noted whether the appropriate property and evidence is being disposed in a timely matter.
Firearms, Drugs, Money, and Other Valuables: Special attention needs to be given to firearms, money, drugs, and other valuables coming into the police evidence and storage facilities. Regular audits must be conducted to ensure accountability and proper handling of these high-value items. If possible, every high-value evidence item should be audited; if the volume of these items is overwhelming, a percentage of the high-value evidence needs to be traced from collection to storage to use in court to disposition.
Agency Vehicles, Interior and Exterior: Although agency vehicles should be inspected on each shift, and although supervisors should note any problems or damage, and although the fleet manager is accountable for servicing and maintaining vehicles, this function should also be included in the staff inspection report.
Agency vehicles should be periodically inspected for exterior and interior cleanliness, with particular attention to safety systems, such as headlights, seat belts, sirens, emergency lights, brakes, wipers, tires, and required mechanical maintenance. Exterior inspection should focus on any unreported body damage. Inspectors should review selected service and maintenance records for some of the vehicles and include their finding in the report.
Emergency Equipment in Patrol Vehicles: This inspection should be conducted at the unit’s facility. Vehicles at the facility should be inspected, and the patrol supervisor should call in the motorized units, one by one, for the inspection. The required emergency equipment should be checked for accessibility, cleanliness, and operational serviceability. If loaded shotguns are carried in vehicles, the inspectors should require the officer to unload (and reload) the weapon for inspection. This can graphically illustrate whether officers are sufficiently trained and practiced in handling these weapons.
Personal Defense and Restraint Systems: Firearms, handcuffs, batons, body armor, and OC spray canisters are part of an officer’s personal equipment and can be best inspected at officers’ in-service training sessions. This inspection takes considerable time, but ensuring the professional image of the officers is an important element of police management. The inspectors should focus on the cleanliness and operating functionality of these items and note any patterns of equipment problems, along with any neglect, abuse, or lack of proper maintenance by personnel.
Unit Work Station: The maintenance and appearance of the unit work area should be a periodic inspection for every facility the agency leases or maintains. The inspector should look at the general cleanliness of the entire facility, including floors, windows, walls, restrooms, and cellblocks. Any problems with heat, lighting, ventilation, or air conditioning should be duly noted. Exterior inspection should include lawns, driveways, sidewalks, parking lots, and trash cans. If the facility has a gasoline dispensing function, a safety-specific inspection should be included.
Citizen Satisfaction with Police Service: Citizen surveys are good indicators of how an agency’s community feels about the quality of police service. Inspectors should use call-for-service records to identify complainants and then contact them personally and ask them about response time, officer courtesy, advice or referrals given by officers, any follow-up actions, and how satisfied citizens were regarding the manner their complaint was handled.
Case Presentation and Officers’ Testimony: Judges and prosecutor are excellent sources of information on how officers testify in court and their demeanor on the witness stand. A worthwhile subset of this inspection would be to query defense lawyers on their impressions of how officers respond to cross-examination. This type of inspection can point to training needs in the areas of case preparation, search warrant writing, and, most importantly, officers’ understanding and articulation of probable cause.
Overtime Payments—Court and Regular: Overtime expenses can ruin the best of budget projections, and not all overtime—either regular or court—is always necessary. An audit by staff inspectors may suggest ways to reduce regular overtime and in some cases uncover system abuse. Last-minute calls for service and arrests usually require regular overtime, but a minor arrest does not necessarily require two or more officers to complete the necessary paperwork. Similarly, a minor arrest may not require two or more officers to appear in court to testify. Court overtime can be reduced by working with local prosecutors to ensure that only the required officers are summoned to court and by coordinating trial dates with officers’ leave days and vacation schedules. Some departments have found it beneficial to assign an officer to control court appearance to ensure that hours (and thus overtime pay) are not wasted while officers are waiting to testify. If the staff inspection identifies high overtime pay, then there are procedures available to reduce a significant part of this expense.
Accuracy of Roll-Book Entries: To ensure against personnel taking time off and not reporting it or reporting it improperly, the staff inspection should compare unit’s roll books with payroll forms, officers’ run sheets or activity reports, and leave slips. This inspection can reveal irregularities or at least questionable entries that require explanation. Patterns of sick leave abuse can also be detected, such as sick leave days that are taken immediately before or after leave days or weekends off.
Making seamless improvements to the department is where the staff inspection process works best. This enables the leadership to identify problems, select solutions, and implement the planned solutions. A properly directed inspection tool helps everyone—the chief, the department, and the employees.
The author welcomes your comments and questions. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 International City/County Management Association, Local Government Police Management, by William A. Geller and Darrel W. Stephens (Washington, D.C.: 2003), 339.
2 International City/County Management Association, Local Government Police Management, 340.