UCPD Fails to Follow Up On Complaints Punctually

Report Reveals UCPD Has Failed to Respond To Complaints Within Established Time Frame

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UCPD has repeatedly failed to respond to complaints filed against the department within the time frame established by campus policy, in one instance waiting more than four months to report the results of an investigation into a complaint back to the complainant.

Under rules that have been in place since 2001, UCPD is required to relay the results of its investigation into a complaint within 45 calendar days of the complaint being filed. The UC Berkeley Police Review Board's 2009-2010 annual report - the first draft of which was released for public comment on Nov. 9 - reveals that UCPD violated this deadline in each of the five complaints that proceeded to the final stage of the process.

The board, an entity composed of staff, student, community and faculty representatives charged with monitoring the department's policies and procedures, especially as they pertain to the civilian complaint process, also states in the report that UCPD did not notify complainants of the delay or offer an explanation for its tardiness.

UCPD Chief Mitch Celaya said the department's failure to comply with the deadline can be explained, but not excused, by the loss of management and operational staff that occurred last August after budget cuts and the retirement of a captain.

"Clearly, the delays were unfortunate and shouldn't have happened," Celaya said. "The last 12 months were challenging for us. Organizationally, we didn't have the resources to do all that we needed to do."

But according to Sam Walker, an emeritus professor in the department of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the author of two books about the citizen complaint process, delayed responses and violations of established procedures in regards to the citizen complaint process is a chronic and pervasive problem nationwide.

"People get a sense that the process is a joke," Walker said. "'Why bother?' they think. It's a very serious problem that appears everywhere."

According to the report, UCPD's failure to respond to complaints in a timely manner compromises the public's confidence in the department and jeopardizes the belief that citizens' concerns are taken seriously, in addition to complicating the board's independent investigation into a complaint.

Campus policy states that if a complainant is dissatisfied with UCPD's findings, he or she have 30 days to appeal to the board. The board then conducts a de novo - a completely new - investigation into the allegations filed, said Wayne Brazil, the chair of the board and a professor at the UC Berkeley School of Law.

"The law generally believes that the longer the period between an event and the examination of it, the more difficult it is to feel confident that the reviewing entity has understood accurately what happened," Brazil said. "Documents are lost. Memories fade. These risks increase with the passage of time."

Celaya said confusion about timeliness may also have occurred because the department's rules about the complaint process differ from the rules established by the board, adding that UCPD's policy needs to be brought into compliance and that the guidelines should be reviewed annually.

"We can do a better job of being proactive instead of waiting for a report to come down," he said. "We need to be doing the things we say we're going to be doing."

In addition to having a larger staff to manage the complaint process, Celaya said the department has begun implementing new policies and practices to ensure that disposition letters are sent to complainants on time.

"We need to review - clean up," Celaya said. "Things weren't getting done. Reports weren't being put out."

He added that the department has the opportunity to move forward and is committed to taking steps to correct the mistake.

Although the board does not possess any formal authority to enact change, Brazil said that he was confident improvements would be made.

"I completely expect them to take assertive steps to address this problem," he said.


Contact Madeleine Key at [email protected]

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