The 24-Hour Rule

Information delivered in the midst of a crisis is often inaccurate. It has been my experience that the first wave of information, gathered in a hurried or excited manner, always contains some inaccuracies. Sometimes, as public safety leaders, we have no choice but to make quick decisions based on incomplete information when dealing with emergency situations. The majority of the decision-making situations we encounter, however, are not crisis situations requiring an immediate response. In most of the decisions we make about operations, personnel, and policy matters, there is time to gather more information, think about our options, and even engage in debate.

Unfortunately, public safety leaders sometimes fail to utilize the time available to them and, instead, jump straight to making a decision without having all of the facts. They might make a statement to the media on partially incorrect facts that they later come to regret. In the heat of emotion, they may make a personnel decision that violates the due process rights of an employee that later costs the organization financially through a personnel lawsuit or at arbitration. How can we, as public safety leaders, avoid making decisions that we will later regret? One way is to utilize the “24-hour rule” whenever possible.

The 24-Hour Rule

What is the 24-hour rule? It is the conscious decision to wait 24 hours before making any important decisions that do not require an immediate response. I have to give my mother the credit for my appreciation of the 24-hour rule. She was the one that often said, during times of family conflict, “We’ll talk about it in the morning.” It never failed that after having several hours to calm down, and a good night’s rest, we had greater clarity and more accurate information when we discussed the problem the next day. After the adrenalin subsided and our minds were rested, we could think more clearly. We could calmly verify and interpret what had actually been said. It de-escalated the situation.

I have continued to use this tool in my professional career. Consider a situation of potential employee misconduct. The first wave of information, gathered hastily, may seem pretty damning, and your leadership team may be urging you to take swift action. Members of your command staff may be calling for the employee’s termination or demotion immediately and you may be tempted to make an irreversible decision right now. But do you really need to do that? Is it a matter of immediate public safety? If not, then you have time to gather more information and give everyone time to “sleep on it” before making quick decisions that may have lasting consequences. In my 25 years of experience as a police chief, I have found that when waiting 24 hours to make a decision that could be safely postponed, my decision-making was significantly improved. This improvement in my ability to make an informed decision came as a result of the fact that the information that was initially available had changed enough to alter the nature of my initial perceptions of the problem. Why not place an officer suspected of misconduct on paid administrative leave for a few days while a thorough investigation is conducted rather than making a split-second decision based on imperfect information?

Think about a critical event such as a major homicide incident or an officer-involved shooting as another example. The pressure is on to give a statement right then and there at the scene. The media is present and they want a statement. Certainly the media deserves a statement, and we are going to give them one, but not until we have some accurate information to give. Can we wait to make a substantive statement for the press, made at headquarters removed from the confusion of the scene and with the benefit of vetted information? Please note that waiting 24 hours is not the same thing as waiting 24 days, as I think that is far too long to wait before giving initial information about a critical incident—particularly in the age of social media in which false narratives can develop extremely quickly. But even in a media environment in which combating false narratives is more important than ever, we must take the time to collect accurate information before making public statements.

The 24-hour rule also helps us prevent “TUI-ing,” which is talking, texting, or typing under the influence. When I say “under the influence” I am not just talking about alcohol. I also mean surprise, fear or anger. I have known people who—when angry—emailed, texted, or said something completely out of character that they never would have said 24 hours, or even 2 hours, later. If we could get the hands of public safety professionals off of their phones or keyboards while they are angry, it would make a big difference for our profession. There might be fewer careers ruined, fewer grievances and lawsuits filed, and fewer reputations destroyed.


I am convinced you will find that using the 24-hour rule will enhance your career, improve the quality of your communications inside and outside of your agency, and will help you in safeguarding the agency against the legal and public trust issues that result from making important decisions and statements without adequate information and time. It has helped me profoundly in my career and we emphasize the broad applicability of this rule in several of our Dolan Consulting Group courses, including our Surviving Verbal Conflict® and Making Discipline Stick courses. Using this simple tool, and fighting the temptation to speak publicly or make crucial decisions under the influence of heightened emotions, can help you in developing as a leader and communication professional.

A Cell Phone Camera is NOT a “Get Out of Jail Free” Card

The proliferation of recording devices has resulted in a new reality for police officers: encountering civilians who are recording them as they do their job. While the Supreme Court has yet to give law enforcement officers a clear definition of the constitutional right to record (subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions), the writing is on the wall.

The overwhelming majority of courts that have taken up the question have concluded that the First Amendment prohibits officers from infringing upon a civilian’s right to record them in public while performing their official duties. This is particularly true when there is no question as to whether or not the civilian was lawfully present—meaning that the civilian was not ducking below police tape or otherwise placing themselves into a position where they are putting officer safety and/or investigations into jeopardy. Arrests motivated by the fact that a recording was taking place where a civilian was lawfully present have been tossed out by local prosecutors and have resulted in a multitude of lawsuits and settlements. Yet the YouTube® footage going viral often shows officers angrily asserting the act of recording is illegal.

Avoiding an Over-Correction

In response to this clear momentum, law enforcement agencies across the country are publicly acknowledging that recording officers is not an arrestable offense in and of itself, absent exigent circumstances. Many of these agencies are also instructing their personnel to respect the First Amendment right of civilians to record.

But how many of these agencies are actually training their people to recognize that a civilian’s right to record in many instances is not an affirmative defense to charges independent of the act of recording? It is crucial that officers have a keen understanding of the difference between arresting someone for recording them in public versus arresting someone while they happen to be recording them in public. This distinction is a crucial one.

It seems clear that agency leaders do not want officers stopping, questioning and even arresting an individual simply for recording. But it should be equally clear that agency leaders do not want officers refraining from utilizing their discretion to stop, question or arrest as a result of the mistaken belief that individuals with camera phones in their hands present a heightened standard for reasonable suspicion or probable cause.

Situations in which officers approach a suspect and are confronted with a camera are now commonplace. If officers “over-correct” in their interactions with the public and refrain from taking actions they would otherwise deem appropriate due to a misunderstanding of the limits of the First Amendment right to record, police operations and public safety could suffer.

Understanding a Civilian’s Right to Record and the Limitations of that Right

The importance of striking this balance is illustrated by two cases from the First Circuit. In the Glik v. Cunniffe case, the plaintiff was walking past the Boston Common when he came upon three officers arresting an individual. The plaintiff pulled out his cell phone and began recording the arrest from “roughly ten feet away”.1 The case facts do not indicate that he ever advanced closer to the officers or spoke to the officers until one of the officers approached and addressed him. When he refused to put his cell phone away, he was arrested on the charge of violating the Massachusetts wiretapping statute.

In finding for the plaintiff in Glik, the First Circuit stated that “[t]he filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within [First Amendment] principles. Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest.” 2 The following year, the Federal District Court of New Hampshire, encountered another case of a civilian recorder being arrested but found in favor of the officers. In Bleish v. Moriarty, the plaintiff physically interfered with lawful police arrests at a protest demonstration.3 The plaintiff was within one foot of an officer, reaching into the squad car to interview an arrestee, constantly and loudly asking questions of the officers, and refusing to comply with repeated officer requests to back away and allow the officers to do their job.

In finding for the officers, the court stated that “[t]he video recordings do show that she was arrested while she was engaged in activities that are ordinarily protected by the First Amendment, but being arrested while exercising constitutional rights is very different from being arrested for exercising those rights.” (emphasis added)4

The Need for Practical Guidance

Beyond the First Circuit, courts have given guidance to law enforcement indicating that criminal offenses such as criminal obstruction can and have been engaged in while a recording is also taking place. But practical guidance for officers on the street is in somewhat short supply. So, it makes sense that agencies should be training officers to answer the following questions:

  • Can I articulate to this individual—knowing that I am being recorded—why I have stopped them and/or what law I suspect they have violated?
  • Can I justify my actions separate and apart from the fact that a recording was taking place?
  • Can I affect the stop or arrest without continually discussing the recording device, keeping in mind that by focusing on the recording device I can create the appearance that the camera was a motivating factor in my decision-making?
  • Can I write a report that treats the camera as a mere footnote?

Officers should be trained to recognize that these questions are crucial in an age of unprecedented transparency and to understand that if the answers to these questions are unequivocally “yes”, then the officer’s actions are likely well within the confines of the Constitution.

Officer interactions with individuals who are recording them is a frequent and foreseeable occurrence. It should be made clear to officers and civilians that none of the emerging case law indicates that the activation of a recording device serves as a “get out of jail free” card for civilians engaging in unlawful activity. The challenge for law enforcement agencies is to confer with legal counsel and engage in pro-active training that prepares officers to utilize common sense discretion in the field when confronted by individuals seeking to shelter unlawful activities under the umbrella of the right to record officers.


1 Glik v. Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78 (1st Cir. 2011)

2 Id.

3 Bleish v. Moriarty, 2012 DNH 118 (D.N.H. 2012)

4 Id.

What Effects do School Resource Officers Have on Schools?

Over the last two years there has been a small, but very vocal, segment of the U.S. population that has raised concerns in opposition to having law enforcement officers permanently assigned to schools as school resource officers (SROs). Those in opposition to school resource officers have claimed that assigning officers to schools has resulted in youths being formally arrested for minor conduct issues that would have otherwise been handled informally by school staff if the SROs had not been present in the school. They have suggested that SROs have resulted in thousands of children being marked for life with criminal records for behaviors that previously would only have resulted in minor in-school discipline. They claim that the presence of SROs in schools has contributed to the disproportionate confinement of minority youth because they are disproportionately assigned to schools in minority neighborhoods, and that by arresting minority youth for minor offenses, it gives them a criminal record that will follow them the rest of their lives. In sum, many argue that police officers in schools are responsible for a “school to prison pipeline.”

One should ask, however, are these allegations supported by the research evidence? To date, there is very little social scientific research regarding SROs and their roles and operations within schools. This research brief will review the small set of existing social scientific research studies about SROs to see what impact they appear to have on students and schools.

Not All School Resource Officers are Alike

The first important research finding is that SROs are individuals and, like all people, individual school resource officers act differently from one another. Therefore, examples can likely be found of individual SROs who have taken an unnecessarily heavy enforcement stance toward student conduct problems, and others who have not. Undoubtedly, officers with temperaments unsuited for working with children and youths should not be assigned to SRO positions. However, solely focusing on isolated incidents receiving national media attention is not a reasonable way to determine the effects of the thousands of SROs assigned to schools throughout the country.

It is also important to keep in mind that every jurisdiction has different rules, policies, and organizational tables for their SRO programs. While some agencies require SROs to engage in some teaching activities, or deliver the D.A.R.E. or G.R.E.A.T. programs, other agencies strictly limit their SROs to law enforcement and order maintenance duties. School districts also vary in the amount of control school administrators have over the roles, responsibilities, and actions of the SROs within their schools. These jurisdictional differences undoubtedly also impact how SROs engage in their work. The following research findings will discuss the limited amount of research to date on SROs and the general trends that have been revealed thus far. It is important to keep in mind, however, that not all SROs fit into the general trends.

Are SROs Too Enforcement Oriented?

The most publicized study to examine this question used data from a nationwide survey of 470 high school and middle school principals in the U.S. from 2003 through 2008. This study, conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland, found that schools with SROs reported more serious crimes, more minor crimes, and higher rates for student expulsions than schools without SROs (Na & Gottfredson, 2013). While the authors of this study immediately jumped to the conclusion that the presence of SROs caused normal problem student behaviors to be treated as serious crime, and to be punished more severely through arrests and expulsions, it is also just as likely that they have the order reversed. In other words, this study fails to address the likelihood that SROs tend to be assigned to schools that already have significant crime and problem student behavior issues, and less likely to be utilized in schools that do not experience as severe safety and student conduct issues.

In a more thorough and controlled study, published in 2009, a researcher from the University of Tennessee examined school discipline data for 28 middle and high schools in the Knoxville metropolitan area over a three-year period (Theriot, 2009). Thirteen of these schools were assigned SROs, and the remaining 15 schools called patrol officers when law enforcement assistance was needed. No differences were found between the schools in the overall number of arrests per student, suggesting that SROs arrested just as frequently as schools that relied on calling patrol officers. Compared to schools without SROs, schools with SROs experienced fewer arrests for serious crimes such as assault and weapons charges, and more arrests for disorderly conduct charges. The researcher also examined the SRO schools before an SRO was assigned to the school, and after the SRO was assigned. After an SRO was assigned, the schools experienced fewer arrests for felony and violent misdemeanor offenses, and more arrests for disorderly conduct charges.

These findings suggest that SROs, although they are exposed to more student criminal and misconduct situations than are patrol officers, arrest students at equal rates as patrol officers. The evidence in this study also suggest that when SROs do arrest students, they tended to downgrade the severity of the charges against the student to disorderly conduct rather than an assault or felony charge.

A study by researchers at Mississippi State University examined statewide juvenile court data from 2009 through 2011. They wanted to see if charges brought by SROs differed from charges brought by other types of officers (May, Barranco, Stokes, Robertson, & Haynes, 2016). This study found that SROs and other types of officers were equally likely to refer juveniles to the juvenile court when encountering a report of a felony offense. The study also found, however, that SROs were less likely to refer juveniles to the juvenile court for misdemeanors or status offenses. This study suggested that most SROs act no differently than other officers when it comes to felony crimes. It also suggested that SROs are more lenient than are patrol officers when encountering misdemeanor and status offenses.

Researchers from Eastern Kentucky University were interested in how school principals perceived the presence of SROs within their schools (May, Fessel, & Means, 2004). Surveying 119 elementary, middle, and high school principals across Kentucky, they found that 98% of principals supported SROs in high schools, and 94% supported SROs in middle schools. Fifty percent even supported SROs in elementary schools. The vast majority of principals (92%) believed that SROs in their state were properly trained and acted appropriately. Most (88%) of those who had SROs in their schools reported that crime decreased in their schools after SROs were assigned. These findings suggest that school principals in Kentucky overwhelmingly approve of SROs.

What is the Role of the SRO?

Interviews with SROs themselves also reveal that SROs are far more than agents of law enforcement in schools. One study by Texas State University interviewed a small sample of 26 SROs from across Texas (McKenna, Martinez-Prather, & Bowman, 2016). These interviews revealed that, in addition to their law enforcement role, 46% of SROs described their role as that of a social worker, 38% described their role as an educator, and 35% described their role as being a surrogate parent.

A similar study conducted by the University of Nebraska at Omaha surveyed 52 SROs and 320 patrol officers around the Omaha metropolitan area (Rhodes, 2015). Compared to patrol officers, SROs performed fewer law enforcement tasks (issuing citations, making arrests, and investigating crimes) in a given work day, and also performed fewer order maintenance duties (handling disputes and disorderly persons). Compared to patrol officers, SROs spent more time on non-crime service related activities, such as giving advice, medical assistance, community relations activities, and traffic direction. SROs also had higher levels of job satisfaction when compared to patrol officers.


There have been very few social scientific studies about SROs, but the studies that have been conducted so far do not indicate that the presence of SROs creates a “school to prison pipeline” in which children are saddled with criminal records for behaviors that previously would only have resulted in minor in-school discipline. SROs generally appear to be more lenient than are patrol officers when dealing with minor student criminal behavior and conduct problems. But there seems to be no difference between SROs and patrol officers when dealing with serious felony crimes.

The available evidence indicates that SROs tend to see their role as that of a social worker, educator, and surrogate parent to the students. The work that they do tends to focus on service activities unrelated to crime and disorder, but principals still tend to notice reductions in crime and conduct problems when SROs are present. School principals generally approve of the presence of SROs at high schools and middle schools, and sometimes even at elementary schools.

No empirical research evidence was found to suggest widespread actions by SROs in the U.S. to criminalize the minor behaviors of students in general, or minority students in particular. The general pattern is that SROs make arrests under the same circumstances that would cause a principal to call the police if an SRO were not already present.

Furthermore, SROs create the opportunity for school-aged children to have non-confrontational, non-enforcement contacts with law enforcement officers. that may contribute to more positive opinions of the police later in life. Finally, the known presence of an SRO on campus may enhance the safety of our children, as the mass shootings at grade schools in the U.S. to date have not occurred at schools with an SRO presence. The research to date does not support the “school to prison pipeline” theory, and further research may well support the widespread belief held by principals that the use of SROs tends to have a positive impact on schools and students.



May, D. C., Barranco, R., Stokes, E., Robertson, A. A., & Haynes, S. H. (2016). Do school resource

officers really refer juveniles to the juvenile justice system for less serious offenses? Criminal Justice Policy Review.

May, D. C., Fessel, S. D., & Means, S. (2004). Predictors of principals’ perceptions of school resource 

officer effectiveness in Kentucky. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 29(1), 79-100.

McKenna, J. M., Martinez-Prather, K., & Bowman, S. W. (2016). The roles of school-based law 

enforcement officers and how these roles are established: a qualitative study. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 27(4), 420-443.

Na, C., & Gottfredson, D. C. (2013). Police officers in schools: effects on school crime and the processing 

of offending behaviors. Justice Quarterly, 30(4), 619-650.

Rhodes, T. (2015). Officers and school settings: examining the influence of the school environment on 

officer roles and job satisfaction. Police Quarterly, 18(2), 134-162.

Theriot, M. T. (2009), School resource officers and the criminalization of student behavior. Journal of 

Criminal Behavior, 37, 280-287.