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When and How to Cooperate with Law Enforcement

It’s not unusual for youth organizations to hear from law enforcement investigating crimes against children who are in our care. Sometimes, they are looking into incidents that happened elsewhere, but many times they are investigating claims of injuries in our programs. The officers may request video, staff interviews, or staff/student contact information. In my experience, youth organizations, staffed by people who are used to helping others, are far too willing to hand over information.

Of course we don’t want to hinder any investigations, but before you start providing information, consider the following questions:

Is An Employee or Administrator the Target of the Investigation?

If yours is a large organization, then you likely will have a corporate attorney available to guide you through this scenario. Smaller organizations, however, have to consider not only the organization’s role but also the risk to individuals from talking to the police. Anyone who might be a target of the investigation should never talk to law enforcement without first consulting a criminal attorney.

It’s easy to think that explaining ourselves will make everything clear and will make the problem go away. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works in real life. Trying to cooperate can just get you in deeper trouble. Investigators may not view the evidence in the same way, and in extreme cases can accuse individuals of lying to them or hindering the investigation. For many reasons, getting a lawyer’s advice is a good idea.

The organization may designate a point person to provide information to police, but that person should never be someone who is a target of the investigation. That point person has to walk a delicate balance. It’s never appropriate to hinder an investigation, but neither is it a good idea to force your employees to give interviews. Make your employees available, but then allow them to make their own decisions about whether and when to talk to investigators.

Do Laws or Regulations Limit What Information You Can Provide?

Even if no one in your organization is in the cross hairs, there may be other restrictions on what information you can provide. Federal law, for example, prohibits schools from providing students’ records without parents’ permission or a warrant, subpoena, or court order. Similarly, licensing rules for your organization or state privacy laws may prohibit you from providing information voluntarily.

In those cases, you need to request a subpoena or court order from the investigating officer. This is a routine request and should not upset them. Once you get the subpoena, send only what is included in the request. If they have asked verbally for something that is not in the subpoena, they need to send a second subpoena or court order.

What About Interviews of Minors?

It’s always a difficult question when law enforcement wants to talk to minors in your care.  Some agencies, such as child protective services, don’t have to get a parent’s permission before interviewing children. There may be good law enforcement reasons for an investigator’s not allowing an adult to be present, such as when a child may be a victim of a crime. Research the laws in your state ahead of time so that you don’t have to make a quick decision with not enough information.  

Also know whether or not you can tell the parents about the interview after the fact. Again, some investigations are confidential and there is nothing you can say. But if angry parents ask why you did not let them know, you will need an answer.


It is important to help law enforcement investigators learn the facts, but we also have obligations in other areas that are just as important. We have to balance all of them and be certain that we are following all of the rules that apply.

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youth services law, insights, ausburn_deborah