Police complaint process under City Council review

The proposed changes to the process offer CPD more options when receiving complaints.
Spencer Pearson / Graphic Designer

The Columbia Police Department's complaint process will be under scrutiny at the Columbia City Council meeting Monday.

Police Chief Ken Burton has requested the council look into giving the police department more options during the complaint process to determine whether an officer acted inappropriately.

When a CPD supervisor or Internal Affairs Unit finishes handling a complaint, they will make one of three rulings. Either the officer acted properly, acted improperly or there was not enough information to determine one way or the other.

"As we looked at the received complaints, the options seemed outdated and not quite spot-on," CPD spokeswoman Jessie Haden said. "We're in line for accreditation, so we're reworking our policies to be suitable for that."

During its Sept. 8 meeting, members of the Citizens Police Review Board said they would also like the CPD to simplify the process of filing a complaint.

"The police make decisions about whether they deem something to be a complaint or not, and I'm not even sure how they sort it out," said Rose Wibbenmeyer, assistant city counselor and staff liaison to the CPRB. "If they deem there to be misconduct, then they view it to be a complaint. I'm not really sure if there would be any guidelines as to how they make that determination."

Haden said the difference is whether an officer purposefully acted outside of protocol.

"Often, complainants will bring up an allegation that's not really misconduct," Haden said. "Sometimes it's just a law issue, and those arguments get settled when they have their day in court."

Another concern brought up at the CPRB meeting was the timeframe in which the internal investigations had to be completed. One local attorney said his client had waited months on end for any kind of correspondence from the police department.

Public defender Jennifer Bukowsky said her clients have to initiate complaints through the police department. She argued this limits the number of complaints received.

"The one main complaint among attorneys in my office is that the client has to go to the police department to file the complaint," Bukwosky said. "Often if (my client) had just been mistreated by the police department, they're intimidated by them or not eager to deal with them again."

Haden said any CPD employee could receive the complaint and refer it to Internal Affairs Unit or to his or her supervisor. She also said the form can be found on the website, and in special cases, a self-addressed envelope can be sent to the complainant's home.

"Right now, it seems we're between a rock and a hard place," Haden said. "We want to be expedient, but at the same time thorough. We're trying to get the best of both worlds, but we can't always."

Haden said police have to conduct numerous transcribed interviews, sometimes after hours or on weekends, for each complaint. CPD also must deal with issues such as uncooperative or nonresponsive complainants.

"We're swimming in paperwork and trying to be really thorough, so we're behind," she said. "Because of that, some complaints are taking a long time."

Haden said the police department has been reworking its system for a while, and it will get smoother as time passes.

"The board is still so young," Haden said. "There have been an enormous number of changes, and it's very taxing for everyone. I hope they stick with it, and we'll all continue to see progress and consistency."

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