This article was first published in the Liberty Reporter: 2015 Fall Newsletter >>
The ACLU of Utah recently issued a report analyzing how Utah law enforcement handles complaints from members of the public.
The report, “Opportunities for Trust Building: Overview and Recommendations for Law Enforcement’s Public Complaint Process,” was prompted by numerous individuals who reached out to the ACLU of Utah to express frustration with the complaint process involving law enforcement agencies around the state.
To evaluate how well Utah law enforcement agencies handle complaints from the public, the ACLU of Utah conducted two studies. One was an in-depth telephone study of 12 law enforcement offices from across the state, and the second, was a more general written request to 106 agencies.
Unfortunately, we found some troubling trends in the way Utah law enforcement agencies handle citizen complaints. Our three main areas of concern were as follows:
- Utah agencies too often create conditions of inaccessibility, which discourages the public from complaining.
- Utah agencies marginalize some populations and restrict their ability to access the complaint process.
- Several Utah agencies provide internally inconsistent information about their public complaint processes.
We conclude that because of this lack of uniformity and failure to comply with best practices, departments miss an opportunity to gain community trust and a better community climate. Accepting, investigating, and taking action on meritorious complaints will alert agencies to problems with their own policies and practices and help them hold officers accountable for bad behavior. A complaint process that discourages, ignores, or lets valid complaints slip through the cracks, however, denies the agencies valuable information and chances to improve.
Further, an effective public complaint process both empowers the public and increases trust. On the other hand, a poorly designed or executed complaint process can be the first step in discrimination, deterrence, and intimidation of individuals who already feel wronged by police. In this way, a bad citizen complaint process can lead to distrust and a strained relationship between communities and law enforcement.
Our report concludes with suggested steps that all agencies can take to improve their processes.
To read the report and our recommendations visit our website at www.acluutah.org/police-practices.