Act 218 took effect in 2023, requiring all law enforcement agencies to adopt and implement a set of minimum operational standards. The law allows departments to establish additional standards that are more restrictive.
The Municipal Association’s Risk Management Services drafted model policies for each of the standards, available for use by all cities and towns at www.masc.sc (keyword: law enforcement model policies). Departments that are not SC Municipal Insurance Trust or SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund members should reach out to the SC Criminal Justice Academy for policy questions.
The eighth model policy addresses internal affairs and citizen complaints. It covers how departments can handle investigations of an officer following complaints of misconduct. Under the policy, misconduct can include everything from a conviction of a felony, guilty plea or no-contest plea to a felony, to unlawful use of a controlled substance or dangerous practices involving firearms, weapons or vehicles. It can also involve cases of repeated excessive force, psychological abuse, failure or report another officer involved in misconduct, or making false or misleading statements to law enforcement officials or courts.
The policy requires departments to develop a brochure explaining how community members can make a complaint of misconduct. Beyond complaints coming from individuals, the policy notes that departments must receive complaints from agencies and news media reports and evaluate them for possible investigations.
Under the policy, a superior may relieve an employee of duty temporarily in a case where the supervisor has received reliable information alleging serious misconduct. In cases of a complaint, or circumstances likely to lead to a complaint or an administrative investigation, the supervisor begins a preliminary investigation immediately, making sure that evidence is collected and documented properly.
For allegations serious enough to potentially result in suspension, demotion or termination of the employee, the policy requires an internal affairs unit or person to investigate, and generally complete the investigation within 45 days. Investigators must also keep complainants informed throughout the process, including informing them of the results. Investigators must also provide similar updates to the employee.
The investigation results then move to a designated adjudicator who recommends action to take in response to the investigation, and then to the chief of police or the chief’s designee for a final decision. Investigators who find potential criminal violations must advise the chief of police of this as soon as possible during an investigation, according to the policy.
The policy requires police chiefs to report conduct they believe to be misconduct to the SC Criminal Justice Academy using its standardized form, which is a requirement of state law. This report must take place within 15 days of the police department’s final action resulting from its internal investigation. In cases where the department decides not to prosecute the employee, the department must provide a written report stating its decision not to prosecute.