What to Do if Investigated for an Off-Duty Incident

John Abel
Director of Governmental Affairs

Over the last several months, we have had police officers investigated for off-duty incidents where some troubling trends emerged. The biggest issue is when an officer freely and willfully gives LVMPD detectives their cellphone without probable cause or a search warrant. Detectives then take that cell and download all its contents. Officers gave up their cellphone because they wanted to be seen as cooperative, and they knew that nothing on their cellphone would incriminate them of the crime they were being investigated for. That way of thinking is very short-sighted, because what they do not realize is that contents of their cellphone may not get them prosecuted for a crime, but they can and have gotten officers fired. 

Off-duty police officers have the same rights against search and seizure as every other citizen. Our smartphones hold very private information from our lives. There are many court cases that have solidified this fact since smartphones became more mainstream. Giving your cellphone to a police detective without probable cause or a search warrant opens you up to internal scrutiny, which an officer probably does not realize, as they are being cooperative. The detectives investigating you will appreciate the cooperation as they scour the downloaded information from your smartphone and turn over any proof of a policy violation to internal affairs. Never freely give your personally owned smartphone to a detective without a search warrant. If they have the probable cause for a search warrant, they will show up with the warrant in hand and there will be no choice. 

Detectives will often use their connection as a “brother” or “sister” officer to try and gain your cooperation. In my opinion, this is a ruse. It may feel uncomfortable to tell them no, but your career may depend on you standing your ground and telling them to go secure a warrant. You probably will have nothing to hide, but it’s doubtful you will remember the funny meme you shared or the gallows humor joke you told with co-workers that will be used to discipline you. Officers have too much to lose to be subjected to a warrantless search of their personal cellphone. I suggest you call someone who will advocate for you before you speak to detectives, or at the very least invoke your rights and choose to not answer questions, but that is ultimately up to you. What you say will be used against you during a criminal investigation and any subsequent internal investigation. 

By now, every officer has an LVMPD-owned iPhone. This phone is not a private phone and will be subject to a warrantless search during investigations. My advice for this phone is to use it for work-related purposes only. Keep personal texts and information off this phone. Do not text your personal phone from this LVMPD phone, and leave it at work on your regular days off. 

As always, I can be reached at jabel@LVPPA.com or (702) 468-0766.