Report: Police Make It Hard To Complain
By PAT EATON-ROBB
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Filing a complaint against a police officer in Connecticut can be a confusing and intimidating process, according to a report released Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut.
The organization conducted a telephone survey of 92 municipal departments and Connecticut’s 12 state police barracks, using volunteer callers who asked a series of anonymous questions about how to file a complaint.
The organization said it found problems ranging from departments with no policy for handling complaints to others that implied complainants could be subject to prosecution or deportation.
Twenty-three percent of municipal police departments reported having no complaint form for civilians to fill out and 61 percent said they would not accept anonymous complaints, the group found. Two-thirds of departments with online complaint forms included warnings that false complaints would be subject to prosecution, according to the report.
The warning in the Connecticut State police online form reads:
“False reporting in an attempt to unjustly subject a Connecticut State Trooper to undeserved discipline or slander, or place his/her employment in jeopardy can result in criminal charges or civil liability.”
Lt. J. Paul Vance, a state police spokesman, said that department’s complaint procedure is well established, easy to find and thoroughly transparent. He defended the warning as being part of that transparency.
“You want to be completely open, so people understand what they are dealing with in these types of complaints,” he said.
The Hamden complaint form asks if the complainant would be willing to submit to a lie-detector test.
“In some cases departments said you had to first confront the officer that you had a problem with,” said David McGuire, an ACLU attorney. “Those are all procedures that make it less likely that people will actually follow through with complaints.”
The report follows a federal investigation that found a pattern of discrimination toward Latinos by the East Haven Police Department, and led to reforms in complaint procedures there.
McGuire said in light of that investigation, it was disturbing that some departments told ACLU callers they would report any complaint from an illegal immigrant to federal immigration officials.
A message seeking comment was left Tuesday with Southington Police Chief Jack Daly, the president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association.
McGuire said the ACLU will seek legislation that would establish a statewide standard for reporting such complaints.
But Rep. Stephen Dargan, a West Haven Democrat who is co-chairman of the legislature’s Public Safety Committee, said he’s not convinced there is a problem that requires a new law. He acknowledged he had not read the report, but said it presents only one side of the story.
“The way to communicate is not to communicate from just one side, but to get everyone involved into a room to talk about it,” he said. “I’m willing to listen to the ACLU, but I also want to listen to police chiefs and other law enforcement officials. If there is a way to better the system that makes everybody happy, then we should do it.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)