Sunday, July 17, 2016
[Marin County] Few complaints in how police complaints get filed
When you need the police, it’s usually a no-brainer. Someone breaks into your house; you call the cops. Someone steals your car; you call the cops. But when it comes to more arcane things like filing a complaint against a scofflaw neighbor or a reporting a relentlessly barking dog, it’s not so simple. Maybe you want some anonymity. Maybe you want to avoid the intimidation often attached with asking for some help.
According to a new report from the Marin County Civil Grand Jury, local law agencies could be a little more helpful in building bridges between themselves and the community where complaints are involved.
“The Grand Jury believes that the majority of Marin County law enforcement members operate within the rules of their profession, and recognize and respect the rights of citizens,” the report states. “However, the need for a well-defined procedure for addressing those instances when that is not the case has been affirmed by the results of the Grand Jury’s investigation into the Citizen Complaint process. Clear communication between Marin County law enforcement agencies and the citizenry regarding the Citizen Complaint process is essential for it to be successful, beneficial to law enforcement and not intimidating to the public.”
While not a scathing assessment of how law enforcement in Marin contends with the community, the report did bring up some unsettling findings. For instance, the report (entitled “Law Enforcement Citizen Complaint Procedures: The Grand Jury Has A Few Complaints”) found that procedures put in place by law enforcement agencies serve as deterrents to the community and may even be unconstitutional. Also, some agencies demand face-to-face filings of complaints, which scare off some residents requiring privacy. Some local agencies don’t accept anonymous complaints at all. And the websites are severely lacking, the report states.
As for recommendations, the grand jury essentially asks that law enforcement agencies create a more welcoming environment for those who need to file some form of complaint. The report calls for clear, understandable forms (bilingual, please) and user-friendly website access to forms. The report also wants law enforcement to protect the privacy of those filing complaints.
All of Marin’s municipal law enforcement agencies have been asked to respond to the report, as well as the sheriff’s office.
July 8, 2016
By Chris Rooney