Lowell Larson completes MISSION investigation training
By CECILIA BROWN
Journal Staff Writer
MARQUETTE — Detective/Lieutenant Lowell Larson of the Marquette County Sheriff’s Office recently completed MISSION training with the Michigan Sheriff’s Association Special Investigation Operations Network over three days at the Ingham County Sheriff’s Office.
The aim of MISSION training is to equip deputies and corrections officers to serve on a MISSION team, which can serve as an outside investigative team when an internal investigation is conducted at a sheriff’s office in Michigan.
“The whole idea is to have an independent agency or an independent person look at the issue that got brought up,” Larson said, noting that he feels the use of a MISSION team can help with accountability and transparency regarding internal investigations.
The MISSION team can investigate situations where personnel is believed to have violated policies and procedures.
“If internal policies and procedures are violated or suspected to be violated … it may be an internal investigation to make sure the policies and procedures are complied with,” Larson said.
However, things get more complex if there is a belief that a crime was committed.
“The investigation will go two separate routes: one will be the internal route and if there is belief a crime is committed, it will also go into the criminal route. So you might have an investigation that has two prongs, internal and criminal,” Larson said.
If a sheriff’s office in Michigan wants a MISSION team investigation, the sheriff contacts the MSA to make a request for a MISSION team investigation.
If the request meets MSA guidelines, the MSA will request investigators from two different participating sheriff’s offices that should be at least one county away from the requesting sheriff’s office.
For example, if an investigation was to occur at the Marquette County Sheriff’s Office, an investigator from Houghton County could be assigned, but investigators from a contiguous county such as Alger County would not be assigned.
To avoid bias, it’s important that investigators do not know or have personal connections with the agency and personnel they are investigating.
“If I get called to a different county and I know the people that are involved, I would recuse myself,” Larson said.
When the investigation is initiated, the hosting sheriff will temporarily deputize the investigators so they will have the jurisdiction to investigate the matter, Larson said.
According to MSA, the hosting sheriff is responsible for ensuring that investigators have open access to all the information, personnel and support needed for their investigation.
Sheriff’s office personnel are informed that investigators are working under the authority of the sheriff to ensure understanding and cooperation between investigators and personnel.
At the close of the investigation, the team provides a verbal debriefing with the sheriff, and if applicable, the prosecutor. Then, a final formal report is prepared by investigators and submitted to the sheriff’s office.
According to MSA, the final report is a statement of facts and evidence found in the investigation, but does not make recommendations regarding internal disciplinary action and/or the filing of criminal charges, as those decisions remain at the discretion of the sheriff and the prosecutor.
This type of interagency cooperation and collaboration is particularly important in Michigan, as many sheriff’s offices are relatively small and may be located in rural and/or sparsely populated areas.
“Being that we’re such small departments around here, we can’t justify having someone that’s full-time internal affairs, so having this network of investigators across the state that’s available to each sheriff’s office is … I believe, an excellent way to handle it, because you have someone from the outside and everybody benefits from it,” Larson said.
He said that the program is a great way to partner with other agencies and help others.
“Because we may request someone to investigate … we are able to utilize those investigators, so we benefit that way, but we give back to the system by having our own investigators that can go out and work for other sheriff’s offices, so it’s all about helping each other out, basically across the state, amongst all the sheriff’s offices,” Larson said.
It’s also an important way to build and maintain public trust of internal investigations.
“You want that transparency, you don’t want to be policing yourself. To build the public trust, it’s something that’s very important to have that external person look at something,” Larson said.
Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal. net.