Northeast Times

Public encouraged to voice complaints about police force

Do you have a beef with some­body who wears a badge?

It’s not un­heard of in a big town like Phil­adelphia that has thou­sands of men and wo­men in uni­form. Any­one who wants to gripe about an of­ficer’s be­ha­vi­or is al­lowed to do so, and fil­ing that com­plaint shouldn’t be a hassle, said Deputy Com­mis­sion­er Steph­en John­son Sr., head of the Of­fice of Pro­fes­sion­al Re­spons­ib­il­ity.

John­son is the man in charge of look­ing in­to com­plaints against the city’s po­lice of­ficers. Speak­ing last month to a small gath­er­ing at St. Joachim’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic Church hall, the deputy com­mis­sion­er stressed that com­plaints are taken ser­i­ously and are in­vest­ig­ated thor­oughly.

Every such probe doesn’t end up with an of­ficer get­ting in­to trouble. However, he said, about 80 mem­bers of the 6,600-mem­ber force have lost their jobs since Charles Ram­sey be­came po­lice com­mis­sion­er, and some of those have been pro­sec­uted. 

Mak­ing a com­plaint against an of­ficer who’s done you wrong should be easy, John­son said. 

Earli­er this year, the Phil­adelphia Daily News re­por­ted that such isn’t al­ways the case. John­son said com­plaint forms can be ob­tained from any po­lice dis­trict or oth­er city of­fices. People ask­ing for the forms are sup­posed to just get them. Nobody is sup­posed to ask for ID or in­form­a­tion or in any way dis­cour­age get­ting or fil­ing the form, John­son said.

In Janu­ary, the Daily News re­por­ted that re­port­ers sent to dis­tricts didn’t find that it was al­ways the case. Some met with some res­ist­ance or were hassled. Some were asked for ID or were not giv­en the forms they re­ques­ted.

That’s not the way it’s sup­posed to be, John­son told the Daily News, and he re­peated that dur­ing his vis­it at St. Joachim’s: A com­plaint form is sup­posed to be just giv­en to any­one who just asks for it, he said.

Those same forms may be down­loaded from www.philly­po­lice.com

Forms should be filled out and mailed to the po­lice de­part­ment’s in­tern­al af­fairs di­vi­sion at 7790 Dun­gan Road. Com­plain­ants re­ceive writ­ten con­firm­a­tion that the forms have been re­ceived in about a month, John­son said.

Any­one with a com­plaint about po­lice mis­treat­ment also may call the de­part­ment’s mis­con­duct hot line at 215-685-3009, or e-mail in­form­a­tion to po­lice.com­mis­sion­er@phila.gov

The deputy com­mis­sion­er said any­one who wants to can take a com­plaint dir­ectly to a su­per­visor at any po­lice sta­tion or con­tact a dis­trict com­mand­er, who can me­di­ate or start an in­vest­ig­a­tion. A per­son with a com­plaint also can call 911 and ask for a su­per­visor.

Any­thing minor could be handled at the dis­trict level, John­son said.

“Many are pro­ced­ur­al mis­un­der­stand­ings,” he ad­ded.

An in­vest­ig­at­or will in­ter­view the com­plain­ant, wit­nesses and neigh­bors. In­vest­ig­at­ors will look for evid­ence, pho­tos, videos and med­ic­al re­cords and ex­am­ine de­part­ment­al re­cords and re­view ra­dio trans­mis­sions.

Any­one who feels he has been mis­treated should try to provide the fol­low­ing in­form­a­tion: De­scrip­tion of the of­ficer, name, badge num­ber or car num­ber.

If an of­ficer’s con­duct is found to be crim­in­al, the evid­ence is turned over to the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice.

A cap­tain and an in­tern­al af­fairs’ staff in­spect­or or an in­spect­or re­views each in­vest­ig­a­tion. (An in­tern­al af­fairs staff in­spect­or and an in­spect­or are two dis­tinct ranks.) John­son and the po­lice de­part­ment’s deputy com­mis­sion­er for or­gan­iz­a­tion ac­count­ab­il­ity, Pa­tri­cia Gior­gio-Fox, also re­view it.

When the in­vest­ig­a­tion is over, a com­plain­ant is no­ti­fied and giv­en an op­por­tun­ity to re­view the find­ings. If the in­vest­ig­a­tion finds some wrong­do­ing on the part of an of­ficer, the com­plain­ant is asked to testi­fy in a de­part­ment­al hear­ing or in crim­in­al court.

Lt. Henry Dugan, who ac­com­pan­ied John­son to the ses­sion at St. Joachim’s, said in­tern­al af­fairs also uses com­puter soft­ware to track com­plaints against of­ficers as well as oth­er re­ports of their activ­it­ies. If, for ex­ample, an of­ficer uses force many times in the course of a year, the com­puter pro­gram will alert in­tern­al af­fairs to see if any ac­tions are ne­ces­sary. ••

Con­tact re­port­er John Loftus at 215-354-3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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