Everyone is guilty of negligence some of the time. As humans, we are fallible and occasionally do things without thinking them through. Sometimes, a matter you intended to take care of simply slips your mind.
For most people, negligence is frustrating but is not particularly serious. If your insurer determines that you are negligent, they may refuse to pay part or all of a claim. You lose money, but carry on with your life. However, there are careers in which negligence can lead to severe, even fatal, consequences.
As a police officer, you are at particular risk when it comes to negligence. Your actions can potentially lead to a person’s major injury or death. Whether or not your actions were in good faith, this can signal the end of your career. Occasionally, charges of negligence alone are enough to lead to an early retirement, especially with the downfall of qualified immunity.
Here are some of the ways charges of negligence can cripple a cop’s career.
You get the details wrong
Unfortunately, it is easy to get certain details wrong. Let’s say you have a file with the number of a suspect’s apartment. You may check over and over again, but it is always possible that you’ll get the unit number mixed up. You may even have a predisposition to misreading numbers. You barge into the wrong person’s home, causing property damage, trauma, and potential injury and death.
Similar scenarios can take place with license plates. You pull over the wrong person and the confrontation gets violent. If you cause the person harm, even if you acted with restraint, you may face suspension or your job may be terminated entirely. You may have to face criminal charges.
Always check the details multiple times. If possible, confirm with a partner or colleague before rushing in. A momentary lapse can destroy another person’s life and derail your career.
You tamper with evidence
Evidence plays a huge part in the criminal justice process. For this reason, maintaining the chain of evidence is critical. No civilian should ever be allowed access to evidence without proper cause, and cops need to be cautious every time they interact with evidence. If you make an honest mistake, you end up unintentionally tampering with it.
This could derail a trial and lead to serious legal trouble for you. While it may have been completely unintentional, others may not see it that way. They may accuse you of having purposefully handled the wrong piece of evidence in order to harm them or protect yourself.
While this may not be as severe as harming or killing a person based on the wrong information, it can get you suspended, fired, and even charged with a crime.
You fall afoul of optics
It is no exaggeration to say that our political climate is currently electrically charged. The public is divided on how they view the police, and many are ready to see conspiracy in every accident or act of negligence. As such, even negligent acts that do not cause major consequences can threaten your career. This has to do with the optics of the situation.
For this reason, it is crucial that you do more than your due diligence. Before knocking down a door, make sure it is the right door, as the property damage you cause will look bad. Before you confiscate someone’s possessions, make sure you have followed procedure to the letter, so that it does not look like you are persecuting them for no reason.
Does optics make it harder to do your job? The simple answer is yes, because you may have to take things slowly when there is no time to waste. However, you can also take it as an opportunity to lighten the load on your shoulders. Sometimes, the reason the optics are bad is because you’re not properly prepared for certain scenarios.
One common example is in the case of mentally ill people. Most in law enforcement do not have the training to deal with mental illness, and yet you are expected to get every tiny detail right. The thing is that this should not be your responsibility, and having to go into these scenarios sets you up for failure. It is difficult to demand more from your higher ups given funding issues, but it is worth asking when possible.
Charges of negligence can destroy your career, and in 2022 it is crucial to triple check everything you do. Even when you are acting in good faith, bad optics can lead to serious trouble.