Not too long ago I wrote about our “blue cards” which we send each month to people with whom we’ve had contact during that month. It is one of the ways we maintain the integrity of our service to the community. Another way is how we handle complaints by citizens about the services we provide.
This is a REALLY big deal to me. Like you, I have occasion to need the services of police in my daily life. And when I do, I don’t share that I am a police officer because I want to see what happens. I feel very strongly about how police as a whole should treat the public. So we have a General Order that addresses how these will be handled.
When I was a rookie police officer in another part of the state, I don’t think we were always so good at seeing ourselves as a service organization. I think that has developed over time (a good thing). Back then we saw ourselves more as crime fighters–we used the tactics necessary to get the job done but service wasn’t our highest priority. Now days we know that people need much more from us. In fact we often talk about the fact that we are the only social service agency that answers the phone 24x7x365. We are the people who get called when the person doesn’t know what to do. I’ve been on bats in houses calls, people stuck in bathtubs and elevators, births of babies, all kinds of stuff that had little or no relationship to enforcing the law.
We now know that we are a part of the quality of life in our community. We can help people in positive ways or we can make life difficult for people trying to get through their daily lives. We make it our policy to continuously review ourselves and think of ways to add something positive.
As one of our measures of success we look at our the complaints from citizens. It isn’t particularly frequent. To date this year we have only received 2 and most years we get about 8 or so. Actually they have been steadily declining. I give credit for that to our staff. We actually publish a pamphlet on registering a complaint and making a compliment. We thoroughly investigate each complaint which includes interviewing the complaint, any witnesses, seeking any evidence (like video or audio) and interviewing the officer involved for his or her view on the situation. Fairness is a big deal. Fairness to the community member and fairness to our employees. We try to get to the facts of the matter. After the investigation is complete we recontact the complainant with our final determination. The officer is also advised. We share compliments with the employee and make sure it hits their personnel file.
For complaints there are 5 possible determinations according to our rules:
- Sustained: Evidence sufficient to prove allegation
- Not sustained: Insufficient evidence to either prove or disprove allegations.
- Exonerated: Incident occurred but was lawful or proper.
- Unfounded: Allegation is false or not factual.
- Policy failure: : Flaw in policy caused incident.along with the supporting evidence for such recommendations.
Each of these reports are examined for opportunities to re evaluate our training or our procedures. Sometimes an employee is disciplined for their role — but they still are accorded all of their rights in their labor contract. The goal is to improve their work performance – not unfairly punish or demean employees. We even have a phase in our promotional process where candidates for promotion must demonstrate knowledge and ability in handling this important part of our job.
Every year we publish a report to the City Manager reporting how many complaints we had and what we did about each one. Our recent study by the International City Manager’s Association pointed out that they had never seen that kind of transparency in this type of process before. Which surprised me.
Our goal for the whole process is to maintain credibility with the citizens of the community. We simply cannot do our job if we fail to keep your support.