The Insider's Guide to Real Policing (Washington City Paper) 08/16/02
OCCR's Eure responds to City Paper on police complaints
[Note: The following letter to the editor, written by Philip Eure, the executive director of the Office of Citizen Complaint Review, was published in the Washington City Paper edition of August 23, 2002. The letter was in response to an article written by Jason Cherkis that appeared in the Washington City Paper edition of August 16, 2002.]
To the Editor:
Although billed as satire, "The Insider's Guide to Real Policing" (8/16) completely ignores the substantial progress that has occurred since the District's new police-complaints office opened only 19 months ago. There is nothing wrong with using satire to poke fun at the way the government operates. However, where, as here, a "guide" purports to have a factual basis, those facts should at least be accurate.
The article fails to note that since the Office of Citizen Complaint Review (OCCR) opened, from scratch, in January 2001, it has grown from one to 15 employees. During that time, investigators and other staff have received extensive training and more than 100 cases have been resolved, through either mediation or dismissals following an investigation. The mediation program has been particularly successful, resulting in agreements between citizens and accused officers in 19 of the 25 cases referred to mediation. Because of the sheer volume and the percentage of cases referred to mediation that have resulted in agreements (approximately 75 percent), the District's program to mediate some complaints against police officers has quickly emerged as a national model.
Contrary to the figure cited in the story, there are not 120 cases pending determinations by "complaint examiners," but rather 21, which is the number provided to the Washington City Paper. We also pointed out to your reporter that, as of Aug. 8, 2002, there were 99 complaints under investigation, approximately the same number that were in the investigative stage at the end of last fiscal year, Sept. 30, 2001. It seems that the City Paper has erroneously concluded that all of these investigative matters will end up before complaint examiners, thereby implying there is a huge backlog of cases waiting to be heard. This is untrue. Under the law creating our agency, only those citizen complaints we deem to have merit following a thorough investigation will be referred to complaint examiners for adjudication. National statistics reveal that independent police- complaint offices typically sustain about 10 percent to 12 percent of cases.
As for the referral of matters to the Metropolitan Police Department and the U. S. Attorney's Office cited in the piece, it seems unfair to criticize the OCCR for doing what is required under the law in appropriate circumstances.
The story also misreports that the office has not brought "on board" its complaint examiners. The agency has already contracted with an organization that is assembling a pool of first-rate complaint examiners, several of whom have been identified. The first complaint examinations will take place this fall, following the adoption later this month of detailed administrative regulations governing the hearing process. Once the pool is completely established, cases will be referred to complaint examiners on a regular basis.
In addition to resolving citizen complaints against the police, the agency also has the authority to make policy recommendations concerning police misconduct. We prepared a detailed set of recommendations to establish a data-collection system to determine the extent of racial profiling by police during traffic stops. Those recommendations were submitted to the mayor, the D.C. Council, and the MPD in January 2002. Our agency, together with the MPD and community groups serving on a task force, is now helping to design a racial-profiling data-collection system for the District. More policy recommendations will follow.
To say that the OCCR does little more than "paper-shuffling" is a disservice to City Paper readers and the public, because it is incorrect. It also denigrates the contributions of highly motivated employees and the dozen or so interns from Washington, D.C.-area universities who have worked here.
Office of Citizen Complaint Review