Monday, September 28, 2009

Data don't match Austin police policy claims on investigating citizen complaints

It's interesting to learn that the percentage of sustained complaints against police officers has gone up under Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, but there's something a bit squirrelly about attributing the increase to a new policy having supervisors investigate low-level complaints instead of Internal Affairs.

APD told the Statesman shifting to supervisor investigations "has resulted in a higher percentage of officers getting disciplined and has reduced the number of days such investigations take to conclude." But the policy only took effect this summer, while the numbers used to support it included year-to-year data. Reported Tony Plohetski at the Statesman ("Number of disciplined officers increases with supervisor investigation," Sept. 28):

Police department statistics showed that from July 2007 to July 2008, 69.8 percent of low-level allegations investigated by internal affairs detectives resulted in disciplinary action against officers. That percentage increased to 77.3 percent from July 2008 to July 2009, the first year of the supervisor inquiries.

Meanwhile, the number of days officials spent looking into such complaints went from 44 to 35 days.

During the same period, the number of residents who expressed dissatisfaction about the resolution of their complaints stayed about the same, according to the statistics. ...

Critics had raised several concerns last year about Acevedo assigning supervisors to investigate lower-level complaints against officers, including fears that the supervisors would be too lenient.

Police officials have said that requiring supervisors to investigate certain offenses will make them more accountable and that they could face punishment for failing to properly supervise. They also said it would free internal affairs detectives to investigate more serious complaints, including allegations of criminal acts. ...

Austin police still assign internal affairs detectives to review supervisor investigations once they end.

Police had wanted to put the new system in place last spring but delayed it until July at the request of Police Monitor Cliff Brown.

Brown had expressed concern about when interviews would be carried out with officers who are subjects of complaints and citizens who make the allegations. Representatives from his office can monitor such interviews.

Brown said last week that the change "hasn't been as bad as we thought it would be."

"The perception is still out there that it's not the fairest thing," Brown said. "The person who is doing the investigation is the same person who is close to the situation."

Shifting to supervisors doing investigations in lower-level complaints doesn't inherently bother me: It's not like Austin PD's Internal Affairs has done a great job over the years. What's more, I'd like to see more mechanisms in the department that hold supervisors accountable for their subordinates' actions. But if the policy was delayed until July, I don't see how you could credibly attribute the year-to-year increase to it. You'd need to see monthly baselines to make that assessment, and even then it's too soon and there's not enough data on the new method to draw strong conclusions. This is still an issue to watch; these numbers won't be the last word.

RELATED: Speaking of Internal Affairs units and when they should investigate, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission is taking criticism in the wake of a controversial raid on a gay bar in Tarrant County for leaving disciplinary investigations to supervisors and rarely punishing its agents, according to a records review by AP :

An Associated Press review of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission's internal affairs logs found that all but 39 of the 234 allegations of excessive force or unprofessional conduct lodged against agents since 2004 have been closed without disciplinary action. Moreover, in nearly every excessive force case reviewed by the AP, the accused agents' bosses were the ones who conducted the investigations.

The allegations ranged from officers improperly tackling, punching and using pepper spray on people. The agency has long had a reputation for heavy-handedness and garnered national attention in 2006 when state legislators forced it to cancel a program that aggressively sought to curb public drunkenness through stings that arrested people - even some bartenders - in bars.

The commission has recently drawn scrutiny because of a June raid at a Fort Worth gay bar, the Rainbow Lounge, that put a patron in the hospital for a week. Two agents and their supervisor were fired for violating agency policy, and an investigation is ongoing.


R. Shackelford said...

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? Cops disciplining cops is ludicrous, and always has been. The Blue Wall effect makes any "investigation" laughable.

BorkBorkBork said...

According to the web site maintained by Police Monitor Cliff Brown there has been no disciplinary action taken since 2007. The "archives" are also empty. Maybe he just hasn't updated the website in 2 years.

Also Cliff Brown is running for judge in the next election cycle.