OPA Complaint Process
The OPA conducts a thorough, objective and independent investigation of complaints. Experienced Detective Sergeants document all complaints and conduct the investigations.
Steps in the Complaint Process
The OPA welcomes all complaints made by the public or an SPD employee. Some complaints are resolved immediately during the conversation with the complainant. The Investigators always document the complaints and provide as much information and assistance as possible to resolve the question or complaint. Learn How to File a Complaint.
If the complaint involves potential misconduct by the SPD employee, the OPA Investigators conduct a preliminary investigation. The Investigators create a preliminary investigative file, which is given to the Director and Auditor to review.
Through a process called "Classification", the Director determines whether the complaints and alleged misconduct should be addressed by an employee's Supervisor and Chain of Command ("Supervisor Action") or whether a full Misconduct Investigation should be conducted.
For complaints that are classified as Supervisor Action, the OPA requires that the employee's Supervisor take certain actions to address the issues that were raised in the complaint. For example, the Supervisor may review performance expectations with the employee and contact the complainant to explain the actions that were taken and to address the complainant's concerns.
For full Misconduct Investigations, the Investigators conduct a comprehensive investigation, which includes conducting in-depth interviews with the complainant and involved officers, identifying and interviewing independent witnesses, collecting and reviewing evidence, and obtaining copies of police department reports related to the incident. Additional investigative steps are taken as needed.
Each complaint contains one or more allegation of misconduct. Each allegation is associated with a specific Police Department policy, which may have been violated.
Once the full investigation is complete, the investigative file is given to the Director and Auditor to review. The Director confirms that no further investigation is required, reviews the case, reviews the allegations and determines whether misconduct did occur.
If the evidence shows that misconduct did occur, the recommended finding will be "Sustained". If the evidence shows that misconduct did not occur, the recommended finding will be "Not Sustained". The OPA Director makes this determination for each allegation individually based upon the preponderance of evidence.
For Sustained allegations, the Director provides a justification and makes a recommendation to the Chief of Police for the appropriate discipline.
Allegations which are Not Sustained fall into five categories. The OPA Director determines the category for each allegation which is Not Sustained.
Not Sustained Findings
- Unfounded: the act did not take place.
- Lawful and Proper: a preponderance of evidence indicates the alleged conduct did occur, but that the conduct was justified, lawful and proper.
- Inconclusive: the allegation of misconduct was neither proved nor disproved by a preponderance of the evidence.
- Training Referral: while there may have been a violation of policy, it was not a willful violation and/or the violation did not amount to misconduct. The employee's chain of command will provide appropriate training, counseling to review SPD policies and address any inadequate training.
- Management Action: due to a deficiency in policy or SPD procedures, no individual will be held accountable for an improper act or undesirable action. The OPA Director makes a recommendation as to how to change or improve the SPD policy or procedures.
For Sustained allegations, the Chief of Police determines the final discipline to be imposed - only the Chief has the authority to impose discipline.
If the Chief of Police disagrees with the OPA Director about allegations which are recommended to be Sustained, the Chief must explain the reason that the allegation will be changed to Not Sustained in a letter to the Mayor and City Council.
The person who filed the complaint will be notified of whether the complaint is a Supervisor Action (sent to the employee's supervisor for handling) or a full Misconduct Investigation. For investigations, the complainant will be notified of the status throughout the investigation process and of the result of the complaint.
The investigation process generally takes between 60 - 180 days. The OPA makes every effort to resolve the complaint as quickly as possible. If you have question about your complaint or its status, please call the OPA at (206) 684-8797 or directly call the Sergeant who you have been speaking to.
To learn more about the review process of complaints, take a look at our flow chart.