Open up complaint process, Police Review Board says

jwise@newsobserver.comApril 16, 2014 

  • Recommendations

    The Civilian Police Review Board (CPRB) made these recommendations on the complaint process:

    •  The Complaint Form should be a fillable PDF/Word document available in both hard and soft copy and not require the complainant’s occupation or work number. The Complaint Form should be more readily available. Decals should be placed on the back of patrol cars instructing citizens to contact Durham OneCall with concerns about police services.

    •  The most recent general orders, policies and procedures of the Police Department should be accessible online.

    •  The Professional Standards Division should provide complainant with a letter confirming receipt of the complaint. The letter should explain the investigative process that the complaint will follow and when the complainant should expect to hear back from the Police Department. In addition, the letter should include contact information for the Captain of the Professional Standards Division or their designee.

    •  In the determination letter to the complainant by the Professional Standards Division, the letter should additionally provide some detail of the facts of the case, the six levels of discipline for a City of Durham employee and whether or not the officer was in fact disciplined. The letter should note that the specific discipline, with the exception of suspension, demotion or termination, cannot be disclosed due to the Personnel Privacy Act.

    •  The complainant should have 30 days from receipt of the determination letter from the Professional Standards Division of the Police Department to file an appeal with the Civilian Police Review Board.

    The CRPB has the following recommendation on the mission, duties, responsibilities and jurisdiction of the CPRB:

    •  The CPRB should receive quarterly Performance Reviews Reports from the Professional Standards Division of the Police Department.

    The CPRB has the following other recommendations:

    •  The Annual Report of the CPRB should be posted on the City Manager’s website.

    •  The CPRB will develop a brochure about the complaint process and CPRB.

    •  The CPRB will host one community forum per year.

    •  CPRB members will be available to present information on the complaint process to Partners Against Crime organizations and other interested community, civic and neighborhood groups.

    The Board is not recommending an expansion of authority to conduct investigations of complaints. However, it will continue to make recommendations when cases warrant pursuant to the Civilian Police Review Board Procedure Manual, Section 4.8, Written Recommendations, Findings, Transmittal & Filing (see bit.ly/19keRLr).

— Easing the process for citizens to file complaints about police, and better information on how police officials respond, are changes the Civilian Police Review Board has concluded Durham needs.

After several months of reviewing its own role and procedures and hearing from Durham residents, the board sent its report to City Manager Tom Bonfield last Tuesday.

The report makes 10 specific recommendations to open the complaint process up for those who complain and the public in general.

But it stops short of advocating for some new powers citizens had suggested: among them, authority to investigate complaints on its own, subpoena witnesses and discipline officers who transgress professional standards of behavior.

“We understand there are some concerns in the community about the way the Police Review Board operates,” said board Chairman DeWarren K. Langley.

“We looked at what the confines of the law require,” he said. “The city manager does have the ultimate decision when it comes to discipline, hiring and termination of city employees and we think we have an appropriate role in providing advice and consultation to the city manager. And that’s something we will continue to do.”

City Manager Tom Bonfield said he had received the board’s report, but not evaluated what it has to say.

“We’ll be reviewing it with our staff over the next several weeks,” Bonfield said, “and will be looking at any of those recommendations in conjunction with any of the other recommendations that come forward from the Human Relations Commission.”

Durham’s Civilian Police Review Board has nine members appointed by the city manager. It receives appeals from citizens who disagree with the police department’s own handling of their complaints about officer behavior.

If the board decides, based on written evidence, that a police investigation was not handled properly, it may hold its own hearing on the investigation – not, though, on the original complaint itself. If the board concludes, after a hearing, that the police investigation was improper, it informs the city manager who makes the decision on any further action.

Bonfield asked the Review Board to examine itself while the Human Relations Commission was investigating alleged racism in the Durham Police Department. Both processes began in response to public complaints last fall. The commission plans to make its report to the City Council at Thursday’s work session.

Human Relations Commission members are among those calling for a stronger civilian review board, but in its self-review the board found that state personnel law constrains what a citizens’ board can do, and decided that the time, knowledge and skills necessary to conduct proper investigations of police conduct are beyond the abilities of a group of citizen volunteers.

Since 2003, according to city records, the board has received 31 appeals but granted only two hearings. In listening to the public, though, board members found that few citizens know what it does, what the law allows, how citizen complaints about police are handled and how to go about making one.

Few of those who came to board meetings or its February open house with complaints about police had actually filed formal complaints that the board could consider for review.

“The only way that we can ensure that we have a complaint process and a board that is responsive to our community is for people to utilize the process,” Langley said, and in its self-review and recommendations, he said, “We did a good job.”

The board recommended that it produce and distribute a brochure on the complaint process and hold an open house for the public once a year.

“For individuals that have used that Langley said, “the board has ensured that the internal affairs unit, or the Professional Standards Division, has conducted a thorough investigation and when we have seen anything that required attention we have shared recommendation with the city manager.

Wise: 919-641-5895

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