In order to understand the Davis Police Ombudsman model, we must examine the Police Internal Affairs Department (PIAD). The Internal Affairs department is important because under the
Development of a police ombudsman function is in addition, not in lieu of, existing processes – We must be clear that the police ombudsman provides a complementary level of oversight to police actions; the position does not replace them. The police ombudsman is not meant to circumvent the Police Department. The position does not normally do investigations in lieu of the police doing them.
To this point, we have assumed we need a new process for review of police complaints. The question is, does
At the February 21, 2006 City Council Meeting, then Police Chief Jim Hyde, described what he called a fairly low number of police complaints and an extremely low number of sustained complaints.
· 2003 — 23 citizen complaints filed; 2 sustained
· 2004 — 17 citizen complaints filed; 0 sustained
· 2005 — 34 citizen complaints filed; 3 sustained
These numbers were purported by the chief to reflect a very low level of need for police oversight (basically low complaints—lack of sustained complaints). The utter lack of sustained complaints has been cited again and again by the police and the council as evidence that this problem is being blown up beyond all proportions. On
A 2002 report by the U.S. Department of Justice warns against such a conclusion.
[T]he meaning of a complaint rate is not entirely clear: a low force complaint rate could mean that police are performing well or that the complaint process is inaccessible; likewise, a high force complaint rate could mean that officers use force often or that the complaint process is more accessible.
The problem with the data presentation by the chief is that it lacked any sort of means to evaluate the wrong numbers. Are these numbers low as the chief suggested? Or are they actually high. Saylor on February 21 actually asked the chief the right question, asking him how this compares to other communities. Hyde dodged this question by stating that communities vary and therefore are difficult to compare. And Saylor never pushed him on the issue.
If he had, we might have gotten a very different story. A good example appears in John Burris’ book, “Blue versus Black.”
The lesson here is that for a city the size of
The next question is why there are so few sustained complaints by Internal Affairs Departments. And the problem is universal, in 2002, there were around 26,000 complaints nationwide. About a third of all complaints in 2002 were not sustained (34%). Twenty-five percent were unfounded, 23% resulted in officers being exonerated, and 8% were sustained.
Burris’ experience as a litigator against police misconduct leads him to the following conclusion about Internal Affairs investigations: They “offer little opportunity for the complainant to be heard. Invariably, when it’s his or her word against a police officer’s, the complaint is judged “unfounded”—even when the officer in question has a history of misconduct or abuse complaints. And, even when Internal Affairs “sustains” a complaint, the sanctions often fall painfully short of being reasonable—or punitive (84).”
This is not to suggest that every complaint against a police officer has merit or is accurate. “People lie to get off the hook; they lie to get back at an officer who may have arrested them, or a friend, or a family member; they overreact; they resist a legitimate arrest and cause the actions that take place. But it’s ludicrous to believe that 84 percent of citizen complaints are unwarranted—as
Burris also cites a Dateline NBC story from 1999 where they sent an undercover reporter into several precincts in
These occurred in
In the current process, a citizen files a complaint; Sgt. Anderson investigates that complaint and issues a finding. The individual can then appeal the complaint to the City Manager, who does not conduct a new investigation, rather he simply reviews the existing investigation and issues a ruling based on that. As we will see tomorrow, the new system put in place by the Davis City Council, does not change this process nearly as much as they purport to.