A visual guide to how most complaints against Chattanooga police end quietly

A visual guide to how most complaints against Chattanooga police end quietly

October 8th, 2014 by Shelly Bradbury in Local Regional News

BY THE NUMBERS

Top allegations of misconduct over last five years

Number of Complaints -- Number Sustained

Excessive use of force: 79 -- 7

Fact finding: 45 -- 0

Harassment: 27 -- 0

Conduct unbecoming: 27 -- 22

Discharge of firearm/animal: 22 -- 0

Discourtesy: 22 -- 4

Source: Chattanooga Police Department

WHAT THE FINDINGS MEAN

Exonerated: The officer did do as alleged, but the actions were legal and within police policy.

Sustained: The officer did do as alleged and the actions constituted misconduct.

Unfounded: The officer did not do as alleged.

Not Sustained: There was not enough evidence to determine whether the officer did as alleged.

Source: Chattanooga Police Department

POLL: Should an external agency investigate police misconduct reports?

Of 358 complaints lodged with the Chattanooga Police Department's internal affairs division by residents and officers during the last five years, just 47 resulted in officers being found guilty of misconduct.

That's about 13 percent. Most of the internal affairs investigations -- 67 percent -- ended without finding the accused officer at fault. The remaining 20 percent ended either without enough evidence to make a decision or with no action taken, records show.

The internal affairs division recently launched investigations into two high-profile cases: one in which an officer is accused of driving under the influence and one into whether an officer had an inappropriate relationship with the victim of an alleged rape he was investigating this summer.

Experts say the 13 percent figure for sustained allegations over five years is not an alarming number.

"I see it year after year from a variety of police departments around the country, and usually a very low number of complaints from the public are sustained," said Maki Haberfeld, chairwoman of the Department of Law and Police Science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "[Thirteen percent] is average."

Members of the public often make complaints without fully understanding police policy, she said, which can skew the percentage of sustained cases.

"The public in general does not understand police work or what policing is all about," she said. "The most common complaint is excessive use of force. Any force that doesn't look right is perceived by the public as an excessive use of force. But it's all very contextual. "

At the Chattanooga Police Department, 79 allegations of excessive force were made and 7 were sustained between 2009 and September 2014. Punishment for misconduct can range from reprimand to termination, depending on the severity of the offense.

Deputy Chief David Roddy said the department doesn't aim to sustain a certain percentage of cases, but rather considers each case on its own.

As a more general safety net, the department maintains a system that automatically triggers alerts when officers rack up an unusual number of complaints, injuries, leave time, pursuit reports or use-of-force reports, Roddy said. If an officer meets a preset threshold, the system automatically alerts the internal affairs department.

"It gives us that objective trigger to make sure we're watching the system and paying attention to our officers' conduct to see if there is anything we need to address," Roddy said.

After an internal affairs investigation concludes, several people make recommendations on whether the allegations should be sustained, not sustained, unfounded or the officer exonerated, said Lt. Jason Irvin, who heads internal affairs. But Chief Fred Fletcher makes the final call.

That's a sign of a healthy internal affairs division, Haberfeld said. But on the other hand, few or no complaints is a sign of an unhealthy division, she added.

"A warning sign is no complaints," she said. "To me that means there is something wrong. Complaints are an indication that the department has trust and people are reporting more because they feel that if there is something wrong, the department will take it seriously."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com with tips or story ideas.

WHAT THE FINDINGS MEAN

Exonerated - The officer did do what was alleged, but the actions were legal and within police policy.

Sustained - The officer did do what was alleged and the actions were not within police policy.

Unfounded - The officer did not do what was alleged.

Not Sustained - There was not enough evidence to determine whether the officer did what was alleged.

Source: Chattanooga Police Department

Document: Internal Affairs

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