Report: BPD Investigation of Civilian Complaints Took More Than a Year

National experts say complaints against officers should be resolved between 90 and 180 days.

By Edward Mason and Tom Mashberg


 

A new report by a panel that oversees the Boston Police Department’s handling of civilian complaints against officers has found that the vast majority of complaints it reviewed since 2011 took Internal Affairs more than a year to investigate, far longer than law enforcement experts say is appropriate.

The report bolsters the findings from an article in this month’s Boston magazine, which outlined how the department, much to the frustration of plaintiffs and civil liberties proponents, often takes years to resolve routine allegations of police misconduct.

The report by the Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel also found that citizens filed 324 complaints against officers in 2012, as compared to 301 in the preceding year—a 7.6 percent jump. The total is far higher than the 87 logged in 2008, when the COOP first began reviewing the department’s Internal Affairs Division. The report said the growth in complaints was attributable to an increase in online filings by civilian claimants.

The BPD is in the process of responding to the COOP’s report. We will update our story when we have that response.

Even though there were more total allegations against officers in 2012, civilian claims were upheld—or “sustained”—by the Internal Affairs Division at about the same rate as they were in 2011. That rate of 9 percent—it was 10 percent a year earlier—has been critiqued as low by independent police experts and civil rights lawyers.

Complaints against police officers should be resolved between 90 and 180 days, according to national experts, and Boston has embraced a 180-day goal in the past. (The department only said in a recent statement that it prioritizes complaints and seeks to complete them in a timely manner.) However, in the report released Wednesday, the COOP found that 21 out of 31, or 67 percent, of the 2012 cases sent to it for review required 12 months or more to investigate. In 2011, 65 percent—or 13 of 20—took more than a year. Part of the COOP’s job is to review certain cases on appeal when the allegations against an officer are not sustained.

The report found some improvement by the BPD in clearing backlogged cases in 2012 over 2011, and attributed the “modest downward trend” to IAD taking its recommendations seriously.

There was positive news for the department as well. Use of force allegations fell from to 31 in 2012 from 113 in 2011. Allegations that officers were disrespectful to citizens dropped to 98 from 111 in the same period. The report credited the department for developing “innovative” use-of-force training. Nonetheless, the department has paid millions in unnecessary force settlements to civilians in recent years, including $1.4 million to a former Middlesex County Corrections Officer who alleged he was injured during a violent arrest.

The panel also noted that the BPD’s leadership was in discussions with police unions on adopting a mediation program that the COOP has recommended since 2007 for certain types of complaints. Mediation is credited by some police forces for speeding up the resolution of complaints. The report said “a more satisfactory outcome” would have been achieved in some BPD internal investigations had mediation been an option. It is available in Washington, New York and San Francisco, among other cities.

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