Thursday, May 18, 2017

Vast majority of citizen complaints in 2015 not reviewed or acted upon, police ombudsman's annual report finds

Posted By on Thu, May 18, 2017 at 1:06 PM

click to enlarge Vast majority of citizen complaints in 2015 not reviewed or acted upon, police ombudsman's annual report finds
Spokane Police Ombudsman Bart Logue

An overwhelming majority — 82 percent — of citizen complaints against Spokane police officers in 2015 were not reviewed by police brass, resulted in no action and instead were classified as "inquires" or "administratively suspended."

That is one of the most significant revelations in the Office of Police Ombudsman's annual report released this week. Suspending or misclassifying a case, Logue believes, feeds the perception that discipline for officer misconduct is inconsistent and arbitrary.

The statistic only applies to citizen generated complaints filed in 2015, when the ombudsman's chair was vacant. Notably, only 6 percent of complaints in 2015 that originated internally — rather than with a member of the public — were classified as inquiries or were suspended. In other words, in most cases where a cop told on a cop, SPD's administration reviewed the case, and either sustained the allegation or dismissed it.

"I think there was a lack of care paid to [citizens'] concerns in 2015," Logue says. "They didn't try to get to the heart of what the citizen felt and what brought the citizen to their attention. It's a big thing to file a compliant against a police officer."

For 2016, the first year in Logue's tenure, the percentage of suspended complaints dropped from 82 to 58. Still, Logue cites the U.S. Department of Justice's report on the beleaguered Baltimore Police Department, which found that only 33 percent of allegations were suspended and 43 percent were administratively closed over a five-year period.

The report (scroll down to read the whole thing), was prepared with the help of ombudsman analyst Luvimae Omana and marks the first comprehensive, yearlong review of civilian police oversight in Spokane under Logue's watch. It both sheds light on SPD's previous shortcomings in holding its officers accountable and gives reason to be optimistic going forward.

Logue says the department changed the way it classifies cases when he brought this issue to Chief Craig Meidl's attention.

"I'm not satisfied with 2015 at all," Logue says. "But just having that little bit of influence and ability to nudge [internal investigators] has changed behaviors from 'We're not looking into that,' to 'We're going to investigate anything you bring to us.' There's been such a significant change."

Here are more big takeaways from the report:

> In the first two months on the job, Logue sent 19 out of 37 cases back to SPD's Internal Affairs investigators because he was unsatisfied in some way with the investigation.

"Initially, there was a period of friction where IA had to get accustomed to my expectations of a timely, thoroughly and objectively investigated case," Logue writes in the report.

> The backlog of 118 cases that piled up while the office was vacant has been cleared. Several of those cases were either not investigated or were completed with "non-objective interviews." In fact, Logue found several cases where internal investigators justified officers' actions without interviewing the officer. Logue declined to certify 17 of the backlogged cases, and Meidl has since agreed to review those cases for quality assurance, according to Logue's report.

> For 2015, 44 percent of internal complaints were unfounded; 50 percent were sustained. In 2016, 28 percent of complaints were unfounded; 50 percent were sustained.

> Logue describes the initial "friction" with SPD's internal investigators that played out in a struggle over his office's access to police body camera footage and came to a head when Internal Affairs Lt. Steven Braun failed to deliver 12 cases to the ombudsman's office for review.

The ombudsman's office now has access to body camera footage, and Braun has since left Internal Affairs. The new lieutenant has expressed his intent to receive certification from the ombudsman for all internal investigations.

"This marked the beginning of the improvement of relations between [the ombudsman's office] and IA," Logue writes.

> Complaints against SPD officers and employees have been declining since 2013. In 2016, 78 were filed (down from 109 in 2015): 66 were community-generated complaints, 12 were internal complaints.

> Uses of force decreased by 10 percent. Of the 105 documented incidents where officers used force, the lateral neck restraint was the most common.

> Employees in the ombudsman's office attended 132 community events and 22 professional trainings, fielded 32 citizen complains, received nine letters of appreciation/commendation, mediated two cases, made seven policy and training recommendations and had 790 citizen contacts.

Here are some of the ombudsman's recommendations:

> Police command staff, not internal investigators, should classify most complains. For example, when investigators decide to classify a case as an "inquiry" or "administratively suspended," the chain of command does not review the case, and the allegation essentially hangs over the officer's head without a definitive resolution.

> When a complaint is filed against an officer, SPD supervisors and the officer should review the body camera footage and use it as a self-evaluation and training tool.

> When SPD arrests a juvenile, officers should inform the parents where the kid is, and what comes next. Logue cites an example where a kid's non-custodial parent was notified, but the custodial parent was not.

> SPD should release body camera footage with closed captioning to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Overall, I am pleased with the efforts made by SPD in regards to the complaint process," Logue writes. "I have seen a clear commitment by SPD to respond to issues presented by the OPO and a willingness to establish processes which would help keep issues from reoccurring in the future."

2016 OPO Annual Report by MitchRyals on Scribd

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Mitch Ryals

Mitch covers cops, crime and courts for the Inlander. He moved to Spokane in 2015 from his hometown of St. Louis, and is a graduate of the University of Missouri. He likes bikes, beer and baseball. And coffee. He dislikes lemon candy, close-mindedness and liars. And temperatures below 40 degrees.