When you get a target letter stating you are the subject of an internal affairs investigation, you have the right to a Weingarten representative during the IA interview. Under the AG guidelines, you are entitled to use an attorney as your Weingarten rep.
Prior to the creation of the State PBA Legal Protection Plan (LPP), officers rarely retained attorneys for IA investigations. Even though the LPP now pays for attorneys to assist cops with IA interviews, many officers decline to use the service. That’s a big mistake, in my opinion.
There are four main reasons why you should always retain counsel when you are a target of an IA investigation, no matter how small or trivial the underlying incident may have been.
First, once you get interviewed, there are no do-overs. All IA interviews are recorded, and you must tell the truth. More importantly, you must be perceived as telling the truth. In today’s world, a cop can be fired for even a minor untruth, so every interview is potentially fraught with risk. An experienced LPP attorney who intimately understands the world of police discipline is the best person to help you minimize the risk of saying something stupid or being misperceived as saying something untruthful.
Second, since many PBA presidents and delegates are savvy enough to guide you through an IA investigation, you may feel you don’t “need” an attorney. But the big difference is that the conversations you have with an attorney are privileged, whereas conversations with a union rep are not. That means that your PBA rep can be compelled to disclose what you talked about with the rep. By contrast, you are guaranteed that your conversations with your at torney will remain confidential.
Third, although it is much more convenient to just get the interview over with than to seek out an attorney, remember that some hassles in life are necessary. And when it comes to protecting your career and pension, contacting an attorney is a minor hassle compared to the major hassle that could happen if the IA interview goes badly.
Finally, many cops feel that you might look guilty if you bring an attorney. And if people in your Local rarely use attorneys for IAs, that might be an accurate concern. IA investigators are not idiots. If you are the first person in three years to bring an attorney to an IA interview, they are going to be suspicious. The best solution is for everyone in the Local to bring an attorney every time there is an IA interview. Eventually, the IA investigators will get used to it, and there will be no negative assumptions made about bringing an attorney. At the same time, the people who truly need an attorney are not exposed by the simple fact that no one else ever brings attorneys. And one day, you might be the one who really needs an
Of course, the attorney cannot answer the questions for you. But the best way to protect your career from an IA problem is to minimize the risks by always retaining an experienced LPP attorney before all IA interviews.
Peter Paris is a partner with Beckett & Paris Attorneys at Law, located in Princeton. He served as a Boston police officer before attending Stanford Law School. In addition to representing NJSPBA Locals throughout the state in labor matters, he is an approved attorney for the NJ State PBA Legal Protection Plan (LPP). Contact him at 609- 356-0270.