Employee Complaint Process

Steps in the Complaint Process

A Notice of Receipt of Complaint, also referred to as a 5-day notice, is required by collective bargaining agreement to notify employees named in an OPA complaint within five business days of receiving the complaint. It does NOT imply a full investigation will take place. It is provided to every employee named in every complaint.

If the complaint involves an unknown employee, OPA sends a 5-day notice of the complaint to SPOG or the appropriate bargaining unit for the unknown employee. If OPA discovers the identity of the employee during the preliminary investigation, the employee will be notified of the complaint within five days of that discovery.

The OPA investigator who sends the 5-day notice is usually not the investigator assigned to the case. Please contact OPA at (206) 684-8797 to be directed to the investigator assigned to your case.

The case is assigned to an OPA investigator for preliminary investigation. This entails gathering evidence, analyzing documentation and video, and interviewing the complainant, if possible. 

OPA leadership reviews the preliminary investigation and determines the exact allegations by assessing whether any laws or SPD policies would have been violated if the alleged actions are later proven to be true. Allegations might include, for example, excessive use of force, biased policing, or unprofessional behavior. OPA leadership then classifies the complaint - which indicates how it will be processed - as one of the following within 30 days of the complaint being filed:

  • Contact Log: The complaint either does not involve a policy violation by an SPD employee or there is insufficient information to proceed with further inquiry. In these instances, OPA takes no action other than recording the information and sending a closing letter to the complainant, if applicable. Examples of complaints often classified as Contact Logs include slow police response times, parking ticket disputes, issues with officers from other law enforcement agencies, or crime reports.
  • Supervisor Action: The complaint generally involves a minor policy violation or performance issue that is best addressed through training, communication, or coaching by the employee's supervisor. In these instances, OPA sends a memo requesting that the employee's supervisor take specific, relevant action with the employee. The supervisor has 15 days to complete the action and return the case to OPA for review. 
  • Investigation: The allegation, if true, constitutes a serious policy violation or other category of violation OPA is required by law and policy to investigate. In these instances, OPA conducts a comprehensive investigation, including gathering additional evidence and interviewing involved parties and/or witnesses. An investigation is followed by a recommended finding and can result in formal discipline.
  • Expedited Investigation: The allegation, if true, constitutes a serious policy violation or other category of violation that OPA is required by law and policy to investigate. However, OPA, with the agreement of the OIG, determines that findings can be reached based on the preliminary investigation needs to be conducted. In most cases, OPA will issue a finding without interviewing the involved or witness employee(s). Per collective bargaining agreements, if OPA does not interview a named employee, allegations against that individual cannot be sustained.

If the complaint is classified for Investigation, Expedited Investigation, or Supervisor Action, the employee will receive a Classification Report from OPA within 30 days listing the specific SPD policy directives alleged to have been violated. For Supervisor Actions, the employee will generally receive counseling from his or her supervisor within 30-45 days of the complaint being filed. If the complaint is Contact Logged, the employee will receive an email with a Disregard Notice, and the case will be closed. 

When appropriate, and based on specific eligibility criteria, some complaints are processed via an alternative dispute resolution method.

Alternative Dispute Resolution Methods:

  • Mediation: The complaint involves a misunderstanding or conflict between an SPD employee and a community member. Mediation is voluntary and can only occur if both parties agree to participate. It is an opportunity for the employee and community member to discuss the conflict with the guidance of a neutral, third-party mediator. If the mediator reports that the employee participated in good faith (listened and participated respectfully), the complaint will not appear on the employee's disciplinary record.
  • Rapid AdjudicationThe complaint often involves an allegation of misconduct that the employee recognizes was inconsistent with policy. The employee is willing to accept discipline in place of undergoing a full OPA investigation.

If OPA classifies the complaint for Full Investigation, an OPA investigator is assigned to the case and will contact the employee via email to schedule an in-person interview. It is the employee's responsibility to contact his or her bargaining unit if they would like representation at their OPA interview. If the Classification Report indicates the complaint will be handled as an Expedited Investigation, likely no interview will take place. Non-represented employees may refer to the City Personnel Rules for further information.

The Office of Inspector General for Public Safety reviews the completed investigation to ensure that OPA completed it in a thorough, objective, and timely manner. The OPA Director may then issue a recommended finding for each allegation raised.

The OPA Director reviews every completed investigation and issues a memorandum to the employee's Chain of Command recommending a finding for each allegation using a preponderance of the evidence standard. The memorandum also provides an analysis of the facts through the application of relevant law and policy to show how the Director reached his conclusions. OPA generally issues findings within six months of complaint filing.

If the evidence shows that a violation of SPD policy occurred, the Director may recommend a Sustained finding. For sustained findings, the Chief of Police determines the final discipline to impose. Only the Chief has the authority to impose discipline.

If the evidence shows that misconduct did not occur, the Director will likely recommend a Not Sustained finding, accompanied by one of the following explanations:

  • Unfounded: The evidence indicates the alleged policy violation did not occur as reported or did not occur at all.
  • Lawful and Proper: The evidence indicates the alleged conduct did occur, but that the conduct was justified and consistent with policy.
  • Inconclusive: The evidence neither proves nor disproves the allegation of misconduct.
  • Training Referral: There was a potential, but not willful, violation of policy that does not amount to misconduct. The employee's chain of command will provide appropriate training and counseling.
  • Management Action: The evidence indicates the employee may have acted contrary to policy, but due to a potential deficiency in SPD policy or training, OPA issues a recommendation to the Department to clarify or revise the policy or training.

If the OPA Director recommends a sustained finding for one or more allegation, a discipline meeting is held with a committee comprised of the OPA Director, the employee's chain of command (Captain and Assistant Chief), a representative from SPD Human Resources, and SPD legal counsel. After the discipline meeting, the committee's proposed range of discipline is presented to the Chief of Police, who has the sole authority to determine and impose discipline.

The employee will receive OPA's proposed Disciplinary Action Report (DAR) at the same time it is sent to the Chief. The proposed DAR will include information about scheduling a Loudermill hearing. A Loudermill is only offered if the discipline is suspension or termination.