Police departments across Connecticut routinely make it difficult for civilians to file complaints against their officers in a number of ways, including failing to make complaint forms available, refusing to accept anonymous complaints, imposing time limits on receiving complaints and requiring sworn statements or threatening criminal prosecution or a civil lawsuit for false statements.
Those are the findings of a non-scientific survey conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut and released Tuesday. The barriers to filing complaints that the ACLU cites in the study fly in the face of “best practices that are widely accepted by law enforcement experts,” on the processes police departments should follow for accepting civilian complaints, the agency said.
In Madison, the ACLU reports that the person calling the police department to obtain information was "unable to get answers during the two calls." The person calling was requesting information about how someone files a complaint, whether the complaint can be made anonymously, and whether an illegal immigrant making a complaint would prompt a call to immigration.
Madison one of many departments reported as not providing information to ACLU
The Madison Police Department was one of many departments that did not provide information, the report says.
"Many police employees who responded to our telephone survey about civilian complaint procedures could not answer our questions, refused to answer our questions, provided inaccurate information or contradicted information from other employees," the ACLU report says.
Madison Police Officer Joseph Race, a police department spokesman, said he was surprised to read about the results. He said the department received a copy of the survey Wednesday.
Madison Police Department spokesman said department tries to make complaint process accessible
"I'm not sure when exactly the survey was done, so I can't answer as to what happened when they called," he said. But, he said, the police department does have a complaint process, it is easy to follow, and the department tries to make it accessible to people making a complaint.
He said in one recent situation, a woman who was limited in her mobility wanted to make a complaint, so a police officer went to her home with the complaint form. "She sent it in and it is under review at this time," Race said. "We will go to that extent."
The Madison Police Department website has on it the department's code of ethics, and a complaint form that can be downloaded, on the forms page. Race said complaints also can be made verbally, at the police department, or in writing on a plain piece of paper.
Chief and commander have open door policy, spokesman says
He said Madison Police Chief Jack Drumm maintains an open door policy, and that he welcomes meetings with members of the public. Complaints also can be made to Madison Police Commander John J. Rich, Drumm's second in command, Race said.
"The department will investigate all complaints," he said. "They can make that complaint in person or in writing. And we do have a form here at the police station, it's on the wall in the lobby, you wouldn't even have to talk to an officer."
He said that form then could be submitted to Drumm or Rich. "It can be anonymous and it can be made by a third party," he said. He added, that for complaints to be pursued, the police would have to have information that would allow them to corroborate the claim, particularly if it is anonymous.
"We will ... investigate it, no matter how it comes in"
"But we will take those complaints and investigate it, no matter how it comes in," he said.
With regard to the ACLU's question about immigration, Race said an illegal immigrant coming in to make a complaint about police misconduct would not be automatically reported to immigration. "If they are coming in to report police misconduct, no, we're not just going to call immigration," he said.
Race said the department values the complaint process as one of the many ways it tries to stay in touch with the community. "We want to make sure we're doing things the right way," he said.
Civilian police commission, appointed by the Board of Selectmen, provides oversight to the department
In addition to the police department's official complaint process, Madison also has a five-member civilian police commission that provides oversight to the police department and police chief.
Police commission members currently include Chairman Eric Thornburg, Thom Cartledge, Ed Dowling, Garry Gyneizs, and Marietta Lee.
The Madison Police Commission members are appointed by the town's Board of Selectmen, also all civilians and town residents. Madison Selectman Al Goldberg is the Board of Selectmen's liaison to the police commission. Other members of the Board of Selectmen include First Selectman Fillmore McPherson, Joe MacDougald, Diane Stadterman, and Joan Walker.
ACLU says results reveal need for statewide standards
The results from police departments statewide, the ACLU said in a press release, “reveal a need for statewide standards to ensure that civilians with complaints about police misconduct will not be turned away, intimidated or silenced.”
“We’ve been hearing from too many people who have had difficulty filing complaints with their local police departments,” said David McGuire, staff attorney for the ACLU of Connecticut, who supervised the study. “We rely on the police for our safety, and we’re grateful for their service. But we also entrust police officers with extraordinary authority, including the power to use deadly force, and this must be balanced by accountability, with a clear and reliable method for civilians to register their concerns about police conduct.”
You can view a PDF of the agency's findings posted with this article.
ACLU report based on telephone survey of 104 Connecticut police departments
The ACLU report was based on a telephone survey of 104 Connecticut police departments and agencies, including 92 municipal departments and the state’s 12 police barracks. The survey found that:
Twenty-three percent of municipal police departments (excluding state police) reported having no complaint form for civilians to fill out.
Sixty-one percent of the municipal police agencies in Connecticut told callers they don’t accept anonymous complaints, although law-enforcement policy experts strongly agree that police should accept complaints made anonymously. Another 10 percent could not or would not answer the question about anonymous complaints.
Most complaint forms contain warnings of criminal prosecution for false complaints, including Madison's form
Nearly two-thirds of the complaint forms posted online by municipal police departments in Connecticut contain warnings of criminal prosecution for those making false complaints, though such action is widely considered a deterrent to those with legitimate complaints.
Madison's form does include such a warning, right above the area on the form where a signature is required:
I make this statement of my own free will and accord, without threat or promise. I understand that giving a false statement is punishable under section 53a157 of the Connecticut General Statutes ... I have read the above information and it is the truth to the best of my knowledge.
Nearly half the complaint forms posted online by municipal police departments in Connecticut mention a requirement for complainants to file a sworn statement, though law enforcement policy experts recommend strongly against demanding such statements. Employees at several departments without online forms also mentioned the requirement to ACLU callers.
Just a third of the departments in the survey clearly stated that immigration authorities would not be called against a civilian complainant. More than half did not answer or expressed some degree of uncertainty and 15 percent said they would definitely report a complainant to immigration authorities.