Columbia Police release internal complaint numbers

Jun 22, 2012

The Columbia Police Department is moving toward more transparency in dealing with internal complaints within the department. Earlier this month police voluntarily released a list of internal complaints against officers for the past year -- the first time they've done so. 

The Columbia Police Department has about 165 sworn officers. Last year, the department investigated 28 internally generated complaints against sworn personnel. A little more than 70 percent of those were found "sustained" – meaning there was enough evidence to prove the complaint. 

"Most of the stuff that officers are being disciplined for within the department is minor stuff," said spokesperson Stephanie Drouin. "It can be something as simple as you were on the late report list too many times – you had a traffic accident on patrol."

Internal affairs commander Lieutenant Shelley Jones said last year there were two "excessive use of force" complaints – with the force being used against a civilian. These complaints begin when a supervisor reviews a report, and decides to take action.

"They in turn instigate an internal investigation. And an internal affair investigates most uses of force, so we would have conducted those investigations."

Officer Drouin said most of the complaints that make it into the system are generated by supervisors, not police officers. She said officers who want to file a complaint generally first communicate with their supervisor.

"Most of the officer-officer complaints officers work it out between themselves or a sergeant helps them work it out and it never makes it to the formal process."

Drouin wrote in an e-mail it’s a very serious action for one officer to file a complaint against another. So most officer to officer conflicts are resolved without ever getting formally reported.

Diop Kamau has some perspective on these polices; he's the CEO of a national organization, the Police Complaint Center, which investigates alleged police misconduct. Kamau said he would like to see police departments collect more information regarding internal complaints.

"Anything that you care about, you collect data on it. That's what you do in any business, any university – I've taught at universities. If you care about it, you collect data."

Diop said there should be an open chain of communication between the police chief and the police officers. But he also complimented the Columbia Police Department's complaint system.

"I still think it's a step in the right direction."

Drouin said the police department is not alone: as per Columbia city policy, every other city department has an internal complaint system.