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. 

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 actions alleged are later proven to be true. Within 30 days of receiving the complaint, it is classified as one of the following:

  • Contact Log: The allegation either does not involve a policy violation by an SPD employee or there is insufficient information to proceed with further inquiry. OPA takes no action other than recording the information and send 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 allegation is best addressed through training, communication, or coaching by the employee's supervisor. OPA sends a memo to the employee's supervisor requesting that specific actions be taken. The supervisor has 15 days to complete and return the case to OPA for review. Complaints classified for Supervisor Action generally involve minor policy violations or performance issues.
  • Investigation: The allegation, if true, constitutes a serious policy violation or other category of violation OPA is required by law and policy to investigate. OPA will conduct a comprehensive investigation, which generally includes reviewing evidence and conducting interviews with involved parties and/or witnesses. An investigation is followed by a recommended finding and can result in formal discipline. 
  • Expedited Investigation: The allegation is disproved by the totality of the evidence. OPA will issue a finding based solely on the intake investigation, without interviewing the named employee. Expedited Investigations are often used to resolve allegations OPA is required by law and policy to investigate, such as excessive force, biased policing, and violations of law.

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

Some complaints may be eligible for one of OPA's alternative dispute resolutions:

  • Mediation: An SPD employee and a community member confidentially discuss a conflict resulting from a police interaction with the guidance of a neutral third party. Mediation is voluntary and can only occur if both parties agree to participate. If the mediator reports back that the employee participated in good faith, the complaint is dismissed and no discipline results. 
  • Rapid Adjudication: Appropriate when an employee recognizes their conduct was inconsistent with required standards and is willing to accept discipline in place of undergoing a full OPA investigation. Rapid Adjudication is not contemplated for allegations of serious misconduct.

If the complaint is classified for investigation, an OPA investigator will be assigned to the case and will contact the named 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, no interview will take place. Non-represented employees may refer to the City Personnel Rules for further information.

Once the investigation is complete, it will be reviewed by OPA leadership and the Office of Inspector General, who certifies the investigation as thorough, objective, and timely. The OPA Director may then issue a recommended finding for each allegation raised.

The OPA Director reviews the completed investigation and issues a memorandum to the Chief of Police 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's conclusions were reached. This is generally completed within six months of complaint filing.

The finding will either be sustained or not sustained. A sustained finding is recommended when the evidence indicates that a violation of SPD policy occurred. There are several reasons why a finding of not sustained would be recommended:

  • 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.