By David Van Norman – Civil Servant.
Including, but not limited to, Coroners and Cops
“The Taxpayer Speech:
“Matthew was, and still may be, a taxpayer. His family are taxpayers. YOU are a taxpayer. They (or you, on their behalf) needn’t go begging, hat in hand, for information. He, they, and you, have already paid for that service! You support, by paying taxes and purchasing goods and services in the community (anywhere), the infrastructure of government, which includes law enforcement organizations. You paid for my training and experience (regardless of where you live) for me to learn what I know, and for the investigators in Whatever County to do what they do. You pay for the gas that propels their cars and the computers on which they type their reports. You, as a taxpayer, citizen, victim, loved-one of a victim, or private advocate acting on behalf of the family, have EVERY RIGHT to expect professionalism, and adherence to the rules of professional conduct. If you don’t get that, someone needs to loose their job!
“Law enforcement, like most organizations, has a political side. A deputy investigator, patrolman or detective will not be concerned with the political aspect of failing to do what needed to be done. They are insulated from above by layers of supervision. A sergeant is higher up the supervisory chain, but only a few have aspirations to rise into management. By the time a police officer is promoted to lieutenant, and certainly by captain or chief, politics is about all there is. The weakest link, believe it or not, is the department chief or Sheriff. A chief is generally an appointed position (serving at the pleasure of the county administration), while the sheriff or coroner is generally elected. Either way, scandal will end their careers (and does, on a daily basis) in a heartbeat. No matter how high-and-mighty I think I am, there is always someone higher, and mightier, than me, who understands that he (or she) is held in place by a fickle public.
“Law enforcement, by its very nature, can be intimidating to deal with. But, the fact is that law enforcement has more to fear from you than you from them. Provided you plan your contacts with them, and don’t expect the moon, you should be able to assist the family.
“I appreciate that it is difficult to communicate effectively with law enforcement or other forensic specialists. There are legitimate reasons that some information cannot be released to the public. No one knows who you are – you may be the murderer. But, if your salutation is professional, and includes a concise statement of who you are, and why you are calling – and if it sounds as though you make these calls on behalf of families 20 times a day, your credibility goes up.
“One of the reasons I use email so much, is that it gives the receiver a sense of solidity – having something in hand (or at least in a computer) that verifies the sender’s veracity. My signature block is chock full of junk, but anyone reading it knows they can check me out – I’m inviting them to! My emails are designed to overwhelm. I intentionally front-load everything. It presents in the minds eye a bulldozer that WILL NOT STOP. I want them to see me coming, take me seriously, and comply with my requests. I want them to know that if they don’t comply, I won’t be ignored. Not everybody gets that message… the first time. That’s another advantage of the email format, I just send the same message with SECOND REQUEST at the end of the subject line, with the original message attached (date-time stamped), and CC it to the receiver’s supervisor. That generally gets the job done.
“My standard advice is that during your legitimate inquiries, if anyone refuses to answer your questions, you should “walk up” the chain of command – at each level asking if it is the policy and practice of the subordinate to ignore inquiries from the grieving families of decedents.
“I recommend that you call the agency, and start your inquiry with an investigator – and hook him (or her). Then tell them that you have constructed an email with information about the missing person that you would like to send to him (or her) for ‘forwarding to the most appropriate authority within your department.'”
I’d like to thank Mr. David Van Norman for allowing me to publish his advice. It is my sincere wish that everyone who reads this post benefits from it, like I did.