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Insight from the West Fargo PD: Formal complaint process in place

The image of the West Fargo Police Department depends on the personal integrity and discipline of all its employees. To a large degree, the public image of this department is determined by the professional response to allegations of misconduct against it or its employees. To promote the public’s confidence in the department there must be a process to investigate all allegations of misfeasance, malfeasance or nonfeasance by employees and complaints bearing on the department’s response to community needs.

The department encourages any person to bring forward legitimate grievances regarding misconduct by employees. Department members will receive complaints courteously and will handle them efficiently. All employees are obligated to explain to inquiring persons the complaint procedures. A copy of “How to Make a Complaint” will be posted in the public area of the department and will be given to any person requesting information on how to make a complaint against the department or an employee of the department.

As a rule, complaints regarding law enforcement operations will be handled through the department chain of command. Complaints involving the providing of law enforcement services, or the lack thereof, and improper behavior will normally be investigated and handled by the employee’s supervisor. Complaints alleging improper law enforcement conduct, brutality, or misconduct involving several personnel or supervisory personnel may be investigated by an outside agency upon the direction of the chief of police.

Complaints, regardless of nature, can be lodged in person, by mail or by phone at any time. Every effort will be made to facilitate the convenient, courteous and prompt receipt and processing of a person’s complaint. Normally a person with a complaint will be referred to the employee’s supervisor, who will assist the person in recording pertinent information. If the supervisor or department member receiving the complaint believes the complainant is under the influence of an intoxicant or drug, or displays any other trait or condition bearing on his credibility, such conditions will be noted. Any visible marks or injuries relative to the allegation will be detailed in the report and photographed. Prisoners or arrestees may also make complaints, although circumstances may require a department representative to meet the complainant at a detention facility for an interview.

Complaints received by telephone will be courteously and promptly referred to the employee’s supervisor. If the employee’s supervisor is unavailable, the call will be referred to an available supervisor, the assistant chief or the chief of police. If none of the mentioned are available, the call taker will record the name and telephone number of the complainant and inform the complainant a supervisor will call back as soon as practical. Anonymous complaints will be followed up to the extent possible with the information available to the department.

The employee’s supervisor shall notify the complainant in writing as soon as practical that the department acknowledges receipt of the complaint; that the complaint is under investigation; that the investigation will be completed within 30 days; and that the complainant will be advised of the outcome. If the investigation exceeds 30 days the supervisor shall write the complainant a letter explaining the circumstances of the delay. The supervisor will classify a completed investigation as: Unfounded - no truth to allegations; exonerated - allegations true, but result of adherence to proper and appropriate law enforcement procedures and techniques; not sustained - unable to verify the truth of the matters under investigation; sustained - allegations true.

While it may seem unusual for an organization to actively promote such a program, the complaint process does serve a number of purposes for the department. First, a complaint can identify the conduct of an employee that may not be in compliance with the rules or regulations of the department. Upon review of a completed investigation, the department will look to a root cause to determine whether the incident related to the training the employee received or if some other condition was present. Additional or remedial training may be provided to an employee when deemed necessary. In the past, training programs have been found to be deficient and were modified and improved as the result of the complaint process. Complaints have identified established processes or procedure used by the department which required change to better serve the public. Complaints have also identified topics about which the department needed to better inform the public on a particular law or a department practice or procedure.

A person who files a complaint should be assured their complaint will receive the proper level of attention and that the complaint will be resolved. The complaint process assists the department in its efforts to evaluate our practices and the training received by our employees to ensure we can provide the highest level of service possible for the citizens of West Fargo.