HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States

Civilian Review
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The Indianapolis Citizens Police Complaint Office was created by ordinance in 1989 and is part of the city's public safety department. Its board has nine members (three from the police department and six civilians appointed by the city council and mayor) who meet four times a year, and the office has three staff members, but no investigators. The CPC receives complaints by phone or in person. Formal complaints are signed and notarized. The office only investigates non-criminal matters, forwarding possibly criminal matters to the Internal Affairs Division (IAD) of the police department.

According to statistical information contained in the 1996 annual report of the Indianapolis Police Department, the Citizens Police Complaint Office (CPC) received a total of 127 complaints in 1995 and 155 in 1996.35 In 1996, unnecessary force complaints made up approximately 28 percent of the total (or 84 allegations, since one complaint may include several allegations). As of August 1997, there were ninety complaints received in total for the year, with forty-eight allegations of unnecessary force.

Of the cases resolved during 1995, there was an approximately 8 percent sustained rate (complaints investigated and found to be true) by the IAD; in 1996, the sustained rate of resolved cases was approximately 16 percent, but it was impossible to know from information provided in the annual report which types of complaints were sustained, or whether any were related to excessive force. Human Rights Watch attempted to obtain the sustained rate for excessive force complaints from IAD, but its representative failed to provide this information. Furthermore, bythe end of 1996, 40 percent of cases involving complaints received during 1996 were pending.36

Because the CPC Office does not have its own investigators, all complaints are investigated by the police - either by IAD or, for less serious complaints, by district-level investigators. The CPC does review the IAD or district investigations of complaints it has forwarded, or if a complainant requests a hearing when a complaint has not been sustained by IAD. If the CPC finds that an IAD complaint was incomplete or biased, the CPC requests that IAD re-open the investigation.

The CPC Office does not produce its own report, but it provides information to the police department, which includes basic statistical information in its annual reports. The reports include no information regarding race, age, gender, or description of the incident.

The CPC maintains a database of complaints against officers, and the CPC believes less than 10 percent of the officers generate most complaints.37 Since 1991, the CPC has forwarded lists of repeat offenders to IAD but is not notified by IAD about how it deals with the officers on the list. The CPC is not notified about disciplinary sanctions stemming from CPC investigated complaints. The CPC does not make disciplinary or policy recommendations, and there is no obligation for the police department to report to it about disciplinary action taken. According to the CPC Office, proposals are now being considered by the city council that would enhance the powers and staff of the CPC.38

In response to a question from Human Rights Watch regarding civilian review, Chief Michael Zunk replied that there was adequate civilian review of the Indianapolis police by the CPC, Civilian Police Merit Board, and grand juries. He also asserts that civilian review boards, to his knowledge, have not reduced claims of police brutality or other misconduct, and that there are reported incidents that haveoccurred in jurisdictions with very active civilian review boards.39 The chief believes instead that improved recruit screening, training, code of conduct instruction, and adequate supervision are more important.40

35 In 1996 and through August 1997, there were "informal" complaints which were roughly the same amount as the complaints "received." An IAD representative explained that these figures indicate a phone call or letter alleging police misconduct that is not followed-up with a "formal" signed, in-person complaint.

36 The Indiana Civil Liberties Union estimated that it receives at least five complaints involving the Indianapolis police each week, and the Indiana Civil Rights Commission reports receiving one complaint each week of minor to serious race-related police abuse in Indianapolis and other parts of the state.

37 Human Rights Watch interview with CPC Office director Chris Reeder, August 21, 1995.

38 Telephone interview with Chris Reeder, September 17, 1997.

39 Letter to Human Rights Watch from Chief Zunk, dated January 26, 1998.

40 Ibid.

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© June 1998
Human Rights Watch