Contact between law enforcement and members of the community can sometimes be confrontational. As such, Jennifer Knight, Columbus, Ohio, Deputy Police Chief, says that citizen complaints related to interactions and general police procedures are an inevitable part of law enforcement.
When such complaints are made, law enforcement agencies use a traditional model where the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau investigates potential misconduct and the specific incident brought to their attention.
There is no question that the transparent, impartial, and independent investigation of citizen complaints is a critical component of improving police-community relations and enhancing safety for both citizens and law enforcement officers. But, Jennifer Knight suggests mediation as an alternative to the traditional model of police and citizen complaint resolution.
The complaint process must be accessible
No matter what model is used to investigate and address citizen complaints, that process must be accessible to all citizens and completely transparent. Police agencies that provide community members with access to the process acknowledge how important the role that residents play in the overall safety of their community.
In addition, Jennifer Knight, Deputy Police Chief, says the process allows law enforcement agencies to hold individual officers accountable for their actions if they fail to meet the standards of conduct set by the department and community.
While the complaint process can sometimes seem arduous for law enforcement, if done properly, it can be used to provide valuable feedback so the department and officers can improve their service. Further, the complaint process provides insight into points of discord between the community and law enforcement officers, which creates opportunities for outreach and education.
The traditional complaint model
The traditional investigative procedure around citizen complaints focuses on fact-finding, identifying policies and standards, evaluating any actions taken against those policies, and then imposing punitive action against officers found at fault. On the flip side, if it’s found that a citizen filed a false complaint, the department could pursue legal action against the citizen since it’s against the law in Ohio to file a false complaint against an officer.
Since in this model there is the possibility of punitive actions against officers, they are entitled to due process and contractual protections – both of which can delay the outcome of the investigation and reduce the satisfaction complainants may have with the process.
The traditional model also typically ends with the complainant receiving a letter notifying them of where culpability has been assigned. Still, it often doesn’t provide any information regarding disciplinary action or other measures to be taken to rectify the issue.
Mediation is a great alternative
Jennifer Knight, Columbus Deputy Police Chief, believes that mediation is a viable alternative to the traditional model of police and citizen complaint resolution. Mediation is likely to result in a much more significant impact on outcomes that result from the issues related to communication since a majority of citizen complaints stem from miscommunication or misunderstanding between police officers and citizens.
In the traditional method, communication barriers are typically not addressed, which doesn’t get to the root of the underlying factors that led to the complaint in the first place.
About Jennifer Knight
Jennifer Knight, Deputy Police Chief in Columbus, Ohio, is known for dynamic leadership, innovative community engagement, and excellence in the field of law enforcement. After earning her Juris Doctor, she received the National Women’s Law Association Award of Excellence. Ms Knight is a strong advocate for women in law enforcement and is a passionate community volunteer.
Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.
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