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Connecticut Police Departments Discourage Civilian Complaints

A report from the ACLU shows many departments in the state have barriers that make it difficult for civilians to file complaints against officers. In Branford, the police department is in the state majority of departments that won't accept anonymou

Police departments across Connecticut routinely make it difficult for civilians to file complaints against their officers in a number of ways, including failing to make complaint forms available, refusing to accept anonymous complaints, imposing time limits on receiving complaints and requiring sworn statements or threatening criminal prosecution or a civil lawsuit for false statements.

Those are the findings of a non-scientific survey conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut and released Tuesday. The barriers to filing complaints that the ACLU cites in the study fly in the face of “best practices that are widely accepted by law enforcement experts,” on the processes police departments should follow for accepting civilian complaints, the agency said.

The findings, the ACLU said in a press release, “reveal a need for statewide standards to ensure that civilians with complaints about police misconduct will not be turned away, intimidated or silenced.”

“We’ve been hearing from too many people who have had difficulty filing complaints with their local police departments,” said David McGuire, staff attorney for the ACLU of Connecticut, who supervised the study. “We rely on the police for our safety, and we’re grateful for their service. But we also entrust police officers with extraordinary authority, including the power to use deadly force, and this must be balanced by accountability, with a clear and reliable method for civilians to register their concerns about police conduct.”

You can view a PDF of the agency's findings above.

In Branford, the ACLU found that the police department does not allow anonymous complaints and an official with the department told a survey caller that the department would not call immigration officials if someone who is in the country illegally sought to file a complaint. The refusal to accept anonymous complaints runs counter to how law enforcement experts say police departments should handle complaints against officers.

The ACLU report was based on a telephone survey of 104 Connecticut police departments and agencies, including 92 municipal departments and the state’s 12 police barracks. The survey found that:

Twenty-three percent of municipal police departments (excluding state police) reported having no complaint form for civilians to fill out.

Sixty-one percent of the municipal police agencies in Connecticut told callers they don’t accept anonymous complaints, although law-enforcement policy experts strongly agree that police should accept complaints made anonymously. Another 10 percent could not or would not answer the question about anonymous complaints.

Nearly two-thirds of the complaint forms posted online by municipal police departments in Connecticut contain warnings of criminal prosecution for those making false complaints, though such action is widely considered a deterrent to those with legitimate complaints.

Nearly half the complaint forms posted online by municipal police departments in Connecticut mention a requirement for complainants to file a sworn statement, though law enforcement policy experts recommend strongly against demanding such statements. Employees at several departments without online forms also mentioned the requirement to ACLU callers.

Just a third of the departments in the survey clearly stated that immigration authorities would not be called against a civilian complainant. More than half did not answer or expressed some degree of uncertainty and 15 percent said they would definitely report a complainant to immigration authorities.

Tom Grantland December 05, 2012 at 06:41 PM
i am not a Branford pd spokes person but,having worked there 33 years I feel that I am qualified to comment.I was a both a patrol officer and supervisor so I am aware of the complaint process. The reason for not taking anonymous complaints is to protect the officer. We are talking about an officers career .If someone made an anonymous report about an officer,how can you verify it?How does the officer protect himself if it goes to a hearing where dismissal is possible?Who does thier attorney question?If a person wanted to make a complaint we went to them or had them come in.A supervisor would take a signed and sworn to statement from the complainant.The statement form included the warning that a false statement could result in arrest.The report was then forwarded to the chief for further review.The system worked as far as I can tell. If an officer is doing something wrong then the department needs to be made aware of it. Every officer who does actual police work has to face this type of situation at some time in thier career,it comes with the job.But the officer has to be given a fair chance to defend themselves.I'm sure they're are lots of stories people can tell about encounters with police.I am only speaking here of one department and using only my own opinion.
bball fan December 05, 2012 at 09:57 PM
OK, how fair is that? Why can't an anonymous complaint be made so that the actual real detectives and supervisors can look into it further? Police often use tips and info that is not on sworn statements to investigate possible crimes. Why can't they be subject to the same investigative tools that everyone else is? I don't think the ACLU is looking for an arrest from an anonymous tip, but at least have the PD look into these possible complaints. But of course, one cop doesn't want to be the one who has to investigate his brothers.

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