CHAMPAIGN – City officials are ready to present changes they have planned for the police complaint process, a step they are hoping will strengthen the relationship between the police department and the community.
A nine-member committee in February began reviewing the process by which citizens allege a police officer violated their rights. The review was a direct response to the October 2009 fatal police shooting of 15-year-old Kiwane Carrington and enumerated in six steps officials presented to build police-community relations following the incident.
The city council will receive and discuss the report from the review committee when council members meet next week.
City Manager Steve Carter said the recommended changes were based on community concerns. The committee suggested making the process more accessible, adding a mediation component, better reporting the results of complaints and educating the public about the process.
The essentials of the complaint process will function the same way: a complainant files an affidavit detailing the allegations of misconduct, a police supervisor investigates the complaint and the police chief makes a final decision on whether to dismiss the complaint or issue discipline. Appeals are directed to the city manager.
"The areas that the community were concerned about were how can you increase access points with how you can file complaints, how can there be more of an intervention process and a process that can build trust between community and the department," said Andre Arrington, executive director of the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club and a member of the review committee.
What did not come up in the discussions, Carter said, was a civilian police review board, an independent complaint review body that the city council turned down in 2007.
"We really didn't discuss that because it was pretty clear from council comments that there wasn't an interest going into the review," Carter said.
The mediation component would allow the complainant and the police officer to sit down with a trained mediator and come to an independent resolution.
"I think it's a step in the right direction to have a third-party voice in the process in regards to mediation," Arrington said. "I think it's also a step in the right direction for the department to be willing to analyze their process."
Carter said some complainants are not looking for an officer to be disciplined, but rather an explanation.
"Sometimes you'll find people who, to resolve their complaint, they just want to talk to the officer face to face," Carter said.
Officials would still need to develop an implementation plan for the mediation component, Carter said, but it likely will be structured in a way that if there is no resolution during mediation, the complaint would be bounced back to the formal review process. If there is a resolution, the police officer would have the complaint removed from his personnel file.
Carter said only some less-serious cases – a complaint regarding a lack of courtesy, for example – are suitable for mediation.
"It's not like there's a big hammer waiting out there on a (mediation) case and the officer just wants to get out of it," Carter said.
The city will also make complaint packets available in more locations. Currently, the packets can be picked up at the police department, the main library, Douglass Branch Library and at the City Building. Those locations will be expanded to the Douglass Community Center, Illinois Employment and Training Center, Church of the Living God, New Hope Church of God in Christ, the Boys and Girls Club and Whip Hair Designs barbershop. Other locations may be added in the future, according to the review committee's report.
Complaint packets also are available on the city's website, but Carter said the link will be made easier to find.
"What we wanted to do was just broaden out the number of places," Carter said.
The committee recommended that city officials present more detailed complaint reports to the city council and other city commissions. Those reports will now include the nature of the complaint and the resolution that was reached, Carter said, and will hopefully provide a better understanding and give the city council more oversight.
"I think it's a step in the right direction," Arrington said. "We won't know (how the public will respond) until the process is presented."