Clarify Reporting Expectations to Avoid Nightmares

Policies must be well thought out and communicated.

During a discussion with a colleague who has served as a university police chief and school district police chief, the topic of campus officials covering up crime and making common layperson errors that can disrupt a criminal investigation came up. We discussed a situation where two school administrators were called before a judge after they performed actions that interfered with a major police investigation. The administrators were scolded quite bluntly by the judge and informed they would be incarcerated if they ever disrupted a police investigation again. 

The larger problem is that this school system has had several incidents over the past 20 or so years where similar incidents have taken place. In one case, the administrator was clearly trying to help the police but botched an investigation relating to a reported sexual assault because of his ignorance of police procedures. 

These incidents have created a considerable amount of distrust of school officials by local police, prosecutors and judges, and have created a perception in the community that district officials hide school crime. Even in large communities, people talk.

Though overall, the district has worked hard to report school crime, a few administrators who have attempted to conceal incidents to protect the reputation of their schools and one well meaning but ill-informed administrator have instead severely damaged the district’s reputation.  It takes decades to build public trust but only seconds to destroy it when a school official breaks the law in an attempt to cover up campus crime.

In the latest case, the administrators are fortunate they were not arrested as has periodically been the case in other communities. The district has been reluctant to address this issue with a formal written policy as was suggested many years ago after one of the earlier incidents. In an attempt to avoid tying the hands of all administrators because of a few isolated incidents, the district set itself up for disaster. 

Many progressive school systems have established thoughtful written policies to clearly spell out reporting requirements and guidelines for cooperating with law enforcement officials for school employees. These policies are usually drafted with feedback from local law enforcement.  When backed by solid leadership articulating that these policies are meant to be adhered to and appropriate corrective action for violations of the policy, a district can dramatically reduce the chances that one or more incidents will do damage to the organization’s reputation.

If your organization does not have a thoughtful and well communicated policy on these issues, it may be best to broach the subject before it becomes the 800 pound gorilla in the room that won’t leave for a long time.

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About the Author

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Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a global non profit campus safety center. During his 30 year campus safety career, Michael has served as a university police officer, corporal, sergeant and lieutenant. He served as a school system police chief for ten years before being appointed the lead expert for the nation's largest state government K-20 school safety center. The author of 25 books on school safety, his work has taken him to Central America, Mexico, Canada, Europe, Asia, South Africa and the Middle East. Michael welcomes comments, questions or requests for clarification at mike@weakfish.org. Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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