What happens when citizens think police have broken the rules?

A police officer sustained minor injuries in this crash on Aug. 18, 2016, when a car turned in front of him, Prescott police said. No complaint was filed against the officer in this case.

A police officer sustained minor injuries in this crash on Aug. 18, 2016, when a car turned in front of him, Prescott police said. No complaint was filed against the officer in this case.

When someone sees a police officer do something they believe is wrong, what can be done about it?

The witness can make a complaint to the police department. Area police have made it easy to lodge a grievance against an officer.

“Complaints are investigated by the first line supervisor in most cases, unless the Chief determines that the Support Services lieutenant should conduct the investigation. If an internal investigation is warranted, then a tracking number is issued and the process begins with an investigation,” Lt. Jon Brambila of the Prescott Police Department said. 

Once it’s complete, it is sent, with the findings and recommendations from the investigating supervisor, through the chain of command to Brambila, who is the lieutenant in charge of Professional Standards. 

“The Chief has final review of the file,” he said.

Complaints from the public “can take many paths and we have several options for a person to make a complaint,” Brambila said.

People can contact the supervisor on duty during the incident, call in to dispatch on the non-emergency number after the incident to speak with the supervisor, or come into the station during regular business hours. 

“We have an option online for citizen complaints … that come directly to me for review and determination if an internal investigation is to be completed,” Brambila said. The website is ww.prescott-az.gov/services/police/feedback.php. You can leave a compliment there, too.

If someone has a complaint but doesn’t want to speak personally to a supervisor, there is also a form at the police department records counter.

There were two citizen complaints filed against Prescott Police officers in 2016.

“Both cases were investigated by the employee’s immediate supervisor and both were exonerated, having found no violations of department policy,” Brambila said.

At the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office, all complaints are reviewed by command staff, which determines if a Brief of Complaint review will be activated, spokesman Dwight D’Evelyn said.

Minor complaints may be handled informally by the supervisor of the person mentioned in the complaint. Results are placed in the employee’s personal file.

“Complaints may be filed by letter, phone call, email, or in person,” D’Evelyn said “A new YCSO website, with an expected launch date in April, will have a specific link for general complaints, which will be forwarded directly to the Sheriff’s Office.”

There were 33 complaints filed against members of the YCSO in 2016 -- some were filed internally -- and of those, 20 resulted in some form of disciplinary action.

Chino Valley Police categorize complaints as formal and informal.

Informal complaints are those that a supervisor is able to resolve to the satisfaction of the person making the complaint, according to Lt. Vince Schaan.

An example of an informal complaint would be when “an officer makes a u-turn and we get a call complaining about it. 

“We do look into the matter to make sure the officer was acting in a safe manner and with due regard to the safety of the public,” Schaan said.  “We educate the caller that it is legal to make u-turns when done safely and in a manner consistent with our mission of providing public safety.”

He added that most complaints are handled this way, and “people seem happy with this level of investigation.”

If the complaint involves misconduct, a policy violation, or if the person reporting it wants an official investigation, then the police open an internal investigation.

CVPD had five formal investigations for policy or conduct violations reported by citizens in 2016, Schaan said. Three were ruled “unfounded,” meaning the acts didn’t happen or were “frivolous;” one was “not sustained,” or lacked evidence to prove a case either way; and one was determined “exonerated,” meaning that the act occurred, but was lawful.

“When a formal investigation is conducted, we ask for the information from the complainant in writing,” he said.

“All relevant data, information and facts are collected and all those with relevant information are contacted for interviews.  Now, the public has no legal obligation to answer questions, but our staff is required as part of their job to answer questions,” Schaan said, and, when the investigation is complete, the complainant is notified, in writing, of the findings. 

Discipline, if it is appropriate, is a personnel matter and is not disclosed, he said. 

To file a complaint, people can come by the police department and request the form, or call and police will email the form to them.

“If all else fails, they can do it over the phone,” Schaan said. “We would prefer they complete it in writing, but will investigate all matters completely and thoroughly.” 

See part two of this series

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