By Karl Fischer, The Contra Costa Times
RICHMOND, Calif. -- A more accessible, proactive internal affairs
unit will work longer hours to investigate public complaints against
police officers and criticism of the department, acting Police Chief
Charles Bennett said this week.
The freshly renamed "professional standards unit" has increased the
scope of its duties and added an "early warning system" to detect
problem behaviors among officers and address them through training
and other non-disciplinary means.
"It makes common sense to look in advance, before gas is thrown on
the fire," Bennett said. "This lets us deal with everyone the same
way. Everyone knows what we expect."
The department made a presentation describing some of the changes to
its patrol teams last week, and Bennett said neighborhood councils
and the City Council will see the same presentation in coming weeks.
When the department receives a formal complaint about an officer,
internal affairs typically conducts an investigation and forwards its
results to the chief, who makes decisions about discipline. Further
decisions about training and other non-disciplinary actions are
largely at the discretion of supervisors and the chief.
Using the early warning system, professional standards personnel will
track complaints, commendations and criticism about individual
officers. If a pattern of similar complaints emerges in an officer's
file, the department will use formal policies to correct behavior,
even when complaints are not substantiated.
"For example, if an officer receives a number of complaints for
discourtesy in a relatively short period of time, we may get him some
training for his interpersonal skills," said professional standards
Sgt. Jim Jenkins. "If we have an officer who crashes his car several
times, we might send them back for training in that area."
The professional standards unit also will play a role in retooling
department policies that do not work well and in training officers,
He added that complaints about officers using excessive force have
declined 40 percent since September 2003, when Bennett became chief.
In past years, like many larger urban police departments, Richmond
drew fire for doing little to investigate citizen complaints against
More recently, the department's failure for almost a year to
investigate claims of civil rights violations during a Cinco de Mayo
street closure in 2002 outraged City Council members and contributed
to the political furor that led to the resignation of former Police
Chief Joseph Samuels Jr..
Sgt. Mike Gormley, president of the Richmond Police Officers
Association, said the internal affairs changes formalize and lend
consistency to practices already followed to investigate patterns of
"It's not a really big change in how we do things," Gormley said.
"Nobody has expressed any concerns so far ... it's an approach that
could also serve to protect officers."
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Professional Standards sergeants work weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10
p.m., but can also accommodate people who cannot meet during those
times, Jenkins said.