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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com