Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Louder than words: Studies and statistics

Another day, another police department that doesn't feel it needs a civilian review board. This time in Columbia, Missouri. However, this city's police department has agreed to conduct a study on whether it needs to improve how it handles its citizen complaint process according to an article published in the Columbia Missourian.

Firm to evaluate police department's complaint process

(excerpt, article)

Aaron Thompson, chairman of the Kentucky-based consulting firm, which began its study last week, said that he had not been asked to look at charges of racial profiling in his report. He said he had visited Columbia recently and interviewed officers, but he declined to get into the specifics of his findings so far.

“We’re still looking at it,” he said. “It would be unfair to say anything at this time.”

He added that the police department’s current method of supervisory review is “laborious.”

“We are going to recommend ways that they can make it better,” he said.

The department's spending money on its own study. The city will probably be spending more money later implementing civilian review if members of a local coalition and other residents has anything to say about it. Some of them questioned the objectivity of those conducting the proposed study.


“Our consultant should be the people and the Constitution,” [Marlon]Jordan said. “I don’t think just hiring a consultant will get to the root of the problem without the voices being in the hands of the citizens.”

The Community Police Review Commission in Riverside which recently was subjected to operational changes without community awareness let alone input, just released three monthly reports which includes statistics on the complaints filed, the allegations, the findings and even the average length of time it takes for them to be processed by both the department and the commission.

The length of time taken by the police department to investigate and review complaints has varied wildly in recent months, which is pretty much par for the course during the past several years. The reports list statistics for both category 1 complaints which include the more serious allegations including use of force and category 2 complaints, which include things like improper procedure and discourtesy.

Departmental policy #4.12 states that the turnaround for category 1 complaints is 60 days and that for category 2 complaints is 30 days. If more time is needed, the complaint investigator needs to get written authorization from the Internal Affairs Division lieutenant.

This issue arose at a public safety committee meeting last year and Councilman Steve Adams said the police department needed that time and much more time than the CPRC which typically turns its complaints around in 30-60 days, because it did the actual investigation. For the most part, Adams is correct. However, when the CPRC receives many complaints, it sends them back to the department for further investigation and the time these complaints spend back in the department being investigated is tacked onto the statistics for the CPRC, not the police department.

Turnaround times for complaints by the police department:


Category 1: 60

Category 2: 96


Category 1: 204

Category 2: 138


Category 1: 479

Category 2: 0 (none disposed)

In November, a complaint was filed that took over a year to investigate and involved at least 10 allegations against a group of police officers. The final disposition of that complaint was stated in a letter written by the city manager's office which was included as an exhibit to a Pitchess motion filed in court last year. That complaint which was decided earlier that month received an exonerated finding for each one of the allegations listed from the city manager's office.

For the month of November, 10 allegations received not sustained findings from the CPRC, meaning that no determination could be made based on the available evidence of the officers' guilt or innocence and one allegation was sustained, according to that month's report. There were no exonerated findings included in the month this complaint was processed. So it's pretty clear that at least in that case, the CPRC and the police department had come up with disparate findings and the city had backed the police department's own findings.

This is very interesting because historically, there has been little difference between findings reached by the CPRC and the Internal Affairs Division and in most of those cases, the city has backed the police department's findings in cases when the two bodies have conflicted. However, according to the discussion on the annual report released last March, the gap between findings reached by the two agencies had begun to widen by several percentage points.

It was the first year that Pedro Payne worked as executive director on the CPRC, although at the time he still also directed the Human Relations Commission as well.

Last autumn, there was a noticable increase in statistics released by the CPRC that the percentage of not sustained findings on complaints had increased markedly. The finding of not sustained is interesting because it's stuck in the middle of two sides of one incident with the inability at some level to be proven either way. Whereas exonerated findings are the mirror opposite of sustained findings and unfounded, the most common finding in many cases, is the opposite of both, not sustained findings appear to be one finding that the CPRC and department would agree upon if both were evaluating the same work product stemming from an investigation. How many times do they disagree? That is what is not known, as the only conclusive figures were released within the first several years of the CPRC's history which showed that of the 20 times there was a conflict in findings between the panel and the police department, the city only sided with the CPRC four times.

The CPRC had tried to get similar statistics from the city manager's office and was told that this office did not keep written records of the differential findings and final dispositions. A CPRA request initiated the same response. If that is indeed the truth, that is somewhat disturbing.

According to the public safety committee report that covered a nine-month period, the not sustained rate was 32.4%. For the months of September, October and December when 13 cases were reviewed, it was 72.4%.

In previous years, the percentage of not sustained allegations has fluctuated quite a bit, according to the CPRC's annual reports.

2001: 16.6%

2002: 19.0%

2003: 26.7%

2004: 28.9%

2005: 19.9%

The CPRC's annual reports can be found here. The monthly reports are here.

In 2002, the national average of not sustained complaints was around 34% according to this study done by the Department of Justice. The not sustain rates for complaints were also found to be higher in law enforcement agencies which had internal affairs divisions and collective bargaining units.

A 1996 audit done on how Pittsburgh Police Department handled its complaint process broke the categories of complaints down further by separating officers into "bad apple" categories if they received numerous complaints. The not sustained rate for these officers was 50% in comparison to the overall rate of not sustained complaints which is 46%. It was a pretty interesting audit which preceded the city's entrance into its federal consent decree, though its author apparently didn't know how to spell the name of his city.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department underwent a study under the COPS office of the Department of Justice in 2005. The department's not sustained rate had averaged about 33.2% over 2002-03. Both years, the rate of not sustained complaints was much higher for citizen-initiated complaints at 58.8% than for employee-initiated ones which stood at 15.4%.

The explanation for the high rate of not sustained findings in that study was that there was a lack of independent witnesses, yet the differences between not sustained findings for citizen vs employee initiated complaints parallels that of sustained findings which are 18.6% and 76.2% respectively. But the truth probably is that police officers believe other police officers over anyone else and that includes those within law enforcement agencies who investigate them. That shouldn't be too surprising also because many officers who investigate complaints are either field supervisors or are assigned to internal affairs divisions for several years before being reassigned out in the field where their roles change.

Which is why as one study pointed out, about 20% of all cities with large-sized law enforcement agencies have implemented some form of civilian review because many people do not have faith in a law enforcement agency's ability to self-investigate.

Another agency that reported a high not sustained rate was San Francisco's Office of Citizen Complaints, the subject of an audit that was released last month. According to the audit which highlighted many problems in the handling of complaints, about 59% of allegations received not sustained findings.

The CPRC is currently drafting its next annual report which will be released in March, despite the upheaval that it has faced since actions were taken involving its operations by the city manager's office and the police department during the holiday season.

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