Breaking through the blue wall of silence

“The bad apples get right back on the job,” said the woman in a community meeting about police misconduct. “Many [people] are afraid to complain about police officers’ conduct because there is little follow through.”

That’s how Rosaura Torres saw it based on her experience as a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of an officer with the Philadelphia Police Department. You can read about her on numerous Web sites devoted to the women who, like Torres have survived that same situation – and many who haven’t. Or you can read her book on the subject.

But Deputy Commissioner Stephen T. Johnson Sr. didn’t see it quite the same way.

“We take every complaint of police misconduct very seriously,” he said. “We’re here to open up this process and encourage people to step forward.  No one wants to work with a bad cop.”

The subject of complaints against police officers drew about 50 residents to a community forum April 7 in Olney for the Northwest Police Division, which includes districts 5, 14, 35 and 39.  Deputy Commissioner Johnson, in charge of the Internal Affairs Bureau that handles allegations of police officer misconduct, explained the complaint, investigation, and review procedures.

Although these complaint procedures have been in effect since 1993, much of the community is still not aware of them.  That’s one reason the Internal Affairs Bureau is taking this show on the road, and the monthly NW Division safety meeting Thursday was devoted exclusively to this topic.

“It’s important for the police department to be accessible and transparent,” Johnson said. “The more the community knows, the more we will have better information and investigations.“

Due to some high profile police misconduct cases recently, the Internal Affairs Division added 36 new employees, which, according to Johnson, shows a commitment on behalf of the department.

While Rosaura Torres welcomed this news as a breath of fresh air, it was not the situation that she found 12 years ago when she filed complaints of domestic violence against her husband, then a high ranking official in the Philadelphia Police Department.  Ms. Torres’ book, “Abuse Hidden Behind the Badge” details her ordeal.  Torres claims that “Intimidation and no response is what I got back then.”

A question from the audience echoed the concern that people are afraid to come forward with complaints about the police, but Johnson assured them that every effort is made to protect the complainant. Citizens can request a private meeting at a discreet location and don’t have to file the complaint at the local police district, he said.

If the complaint is substantiated, the police officer will receive punishment that may include anything from a written reprimand and counseling up to suspension and dismissal, if warranted.  However, the union grievance process sometimes leads to reinstatement of the police officer.  Johnson also added that most of the complaints filed were found to be unsubstantiated.

People at the meeting were generally supportive of the work the police do in their neighborhood and did not want the bad deeds of a few to detract from the police department’s overall performance.

Still, Deputy Commissioner Johnson acknowledged that some changes were needed in the culture of the Police Department. “We are basically public servants.  If we don’t give good service sometimes, then Internal Affairs must be there to remedy the situation,” he said.

“Things may change now,” Rosaura Torres said.  “So I will sit back and see what develops.  But I am still skeptical whether the police can effectively police their own.“

 

Procedures for complaints of police misconduct:

Complaint Process

Complaint forms can be obtained in all police district headquarters and other city offices such as Mayor’s Action Centers and the offices of members of City Council.
Complaint forms also can be downloaded at http://www.phillypolice.com/forms/complaint-process and mailed to Internal Affairs.
When a complaint is received and processed at Internal Affairs, a letter of confirmation is mailed to the complainant within 10 business days.

Investigation Process

Investigator conducts interviews of complainant and all witnesses.
Evidence, pictures, video, medical and police department records are obtained.
If determined to be criminal, evidence is submitted to the District Attorney’s Office.

Review Process

Completed investigations are reviewed at several levels including: the investigators the captain, the Internal Affairs inspector, and the Deputy Commission of the Office of Professional Responsibility.
At any level of review, further investigation can occur before final disposition.

Notifications

A final determination must be made within 75 days of the complaint.
A letter is sent from the Police Commissioner to the complainant once the investigation is finalized.
Upon receipt of the letter, the complainant can schedule a review of the findings of the investigation.
The process for receiving, investigating and disposing of citizens’ complaints is set forth in the Mayor’s Executive Order 9-93 and Police Department Directive 127.

 

For any questions or concerns regarding a complaint, contact:

Internal Affairs Bureau

7790 Dungan Road, Philadelphia, PA  19111

Hours: 8:10 AM to 4:30 PM

Telephone: 215-685-5056

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