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Auditor: Fresno PD misconduct investigations at 5-year low in 2016

Byline1

The Fresno Police Department’s Internal Affairs unit conducted a dramatically smaller number of full-blown investigations last year.

Police Auditor Rick Rasmussen in his most recent analysis of department activities reports there were a total of 90 Internal Affairs (IA) investigations in 2016.

There were 45 department-generated and 45 citizen-generated investigations. IA investigations involve a thorough review of the department by the department. They are the highest order of self-regulation.

The department for the five preceding years averaged 138 IA investigations per year, with a high of 148 in 2011 and a low of 122 in 2014.

Last year’s decline in IA investigations was steeper on the citizen-generated side than on the department-generated side.

Compared to the 2011-2015 five-year average, there also was a substantial drop in 2016 in the number of citizen complaints (made via the Inquiry Complaint Form, or ICF). Rasmussen in his report calls this “an encouraging trend.”

Rasmussen’s report for 2016’s fourth quarter (Oct. 1 to Dec. 31) is among his best in his four-and-a-half years as head of Fresno’s Office of Independent Review. He writes that there were 90 complaints in which 32 officers “were subject to some form of corrective action and training.”

Rasmussen gives the reader a detailed graphic showing the nature of disciplinary action in 2016. He compares 2016’s disciplinary action to such action in the five preceding years.

For example, Rasmussen reports that seven officers received “terminations” in 2016. There were three terminations in 2011, eight in 2012, five in 2013, three in 2014 and five in 2015.

Rasmussen reports that 16 officers received suspensions in 2016. There were eight suspensions in 2011, 11 in 2012, 15 in 2013, 14 in 2014 and 13 in 2015.

There have been no demotions over the past six years. There were nine letters of reprimand in 2016. The highest number of letters of reprimand over the six-year period was 23 in 2012.

The 32 officers receiving some form of discipline in 2016 is about average for the six-year period in Rasmussen’s report. The high was 48 in 2012.

(On a personal note, it would be helpful for the public to know which Fresno Police Department units/divisions have the most disciplinary cases and how long each of the disciplined officers has been with the Fresno Police Department. Rasmussen’s report doesn’t go into such detail. Seems like this context could be provided without violating confidentiality laws.)

Rasmusen explores at length the department’s growing use of information (the “Big Data Revolution” that The Bee’s Pablo Lopez and I wrote about several years ago) in both fighting crime and nipping trouble in the bud before it becomes serious. The department’s Real Time Crime Center is at the forefront of this effort. The center merits its lofty national reputation, Rasmussen writes.

The Office of Independent Review, Rasmussen writes, “is supportive of innovative programs that address existing crime problems and are in compliance with the myriad of issues surrounding civil rights/privacy, and this program – the intelligence-led policing model using a Real Time Crime Center – certainly seems aware of those issues. However, OIR recognizes the sensitivities and nature of intelligence gathering.”

Rasmussen calls the Real Time Crime Center “a must” for Fresno’s public safety strategy. He adds that intelligence work “is best when done in a highly centralized management structure with proper internal oversight. The (Real Time Crime Center) provides this kind of structure and accountability. OIR commends FPD’s forward thinking in funding, prioritizing and implementing safe guards with a detailed policy governing the gathering and use of intelligence information.”

I sent a text message to Chief Jerry Dyer early Monday evening. I asked the Chief what he thought of Rasmussen’s report, in particular the slight upticks in terminations and suspensions. I give you the Chief’s reply:

“The disciplinary numbers vary from year-to-year depending on when the actual order of suspension or termination is served on the employee. So, some of the terminations or suspensions could be as a result of policy violations occurring in 2015 but not finalized until 2016.

“The message I would like conveyed to the citizens is that I take personnel issues very seriously and do my best to set very high standards in the organization through corrective measures, to include suspensions and terminations.

“I believe strongly that when citizens know the police chief is holding officers accountable for misconduct, the level of community trust of the Police Department increases dramatically.

“I also believe increased accountability of employees creates a culture within the organization of high standards, increased employee morale and fewer citizen complaints.

“I think the most revealing statistic in the OIR report is the drastic reduction in citizen-generated complaints in 2016 compared to the previous five years. Between 2011 and 2015 the department averaged 70 citizen-generated complaints per year resulting in an internal affairs investigation. That number was reduced to 45 in 2016. I believe that is a 36% reduction.

“Even more profound is the number of citizen inquiries that did not result in an internal affairs investigation. This is generally when a citizen calls the department to voice a concern about the manner in which an officer handled a call or a concern over the interaction between the citizen and the officer. The five-year average was 480 inquiry/complaints per year between 2011 and 2015. There were 208 in 2016. I believe that is a 57% reduction.

“This tells me that there are increased positive interactions occurring between police officers and citizens, and that officers are taking the time to explain to citizens why the officer handled a call in a particular manner or the reason behind why the officer contacted or stopped a citizen.

“That is great news.”

UPDATE: Dyer sent me an updated message on Tuesday. The actual number of “citizen inquiries” in 2016 was 373, he said. That compares to an average of 480 per year over the previous five years. The drop was 22%, not 57%.

“Still a substantial reduction,” the Chief said.


Photo: The Fresno Bee

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

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