"All the things you ask of me" : Law Enforcement Experiences of Infant Death Investigation Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/xw42nb17x

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  • The sudden and unexpected death of a seemingly healthy infant sets in motion a number of linked processes with potentially complex and far-reaching ramifications. While individuals, families and communities grapple with the shock and heartbreak associated with the loss of a young life, a chain of multidisciplinary investigative responsibilities is initiated to address the question of causation. Currently, very little is known about how infant death investigations are carried out, and perhaps more importantly, how variability within structures and processes influence individual or aggregate case outcomes. The purpose of this study was to examine the lived experiences of law enforcement officials charged with investigating sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUID) in nine Pacific Northwest jurisdictions. Data collected from open-ended, semi-structured interviews (n=26) revealed three dynamic and interrelated tensions experienced by law enforcement during the process of infant death investigation. Study participants described navigating: 1) emotional situations when professional neutrality fails; 2) high-stakes under-resourced investigations; and 3) interactions with parents who must be considered simultaneously as victims and potential suspects. Ultimately, these tensions are amplified by multiple institutional constraints and hegemonic norms and values that characterize law enforcement as an occupational culture. Recommendations for mitigating these tensions also emerged from participants' narratives and were considered in the context of greater law enforcement culture. These recommendations include: 1) Recognizing the exceptionality of infant death investigation; 2) Prioritizing the process of infant death investigation; 3) Clearly defining and delineating roles and responsibilities; and, 4) Developing specialized multi-agency response teams. Overall, this research reveals law enforcement as much more than the oversimplified and caricaturized, aggressive figures commonly portrayed in popular and mass media. Through their own narratives, we see officers struggling to manage one of the many difficult roles they must play. Their stories also reveal occupational norms and values that serve them well in other circumstances, but falter in the context of infant death investigations. Ultimately, this research reveals that, with so much at stake and with all the varied and critical things we ask of law enforcement, we must turn a critical lens inward on the systems that both sustain and constrain the efficacy of this critical police function.
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