A new report released Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut showed filing a complaint against police officers in the state is a confusing and intimidating process.
The ACLU said it conducted a telephone survey of 92 municipal departments and all of Connecticut's 12 state police barracks using volunteers and asked questions about how to file a complaint against an officer.
The ACLU said departments "fell short" of professional standards by failing to make complaint forms available, refusing to accept anonymous complaints, imposing time limits on receiving complaints, requiring sworn statements or threatening criminal prosecution or a civil lawsuit for false statements.
In addition, the ACLU said employees at various police departments could not answer questions about their departments' complaint procedures, refused to answer questions, provided inaccurate information or contradicted information from other employees.
The ACLU said these findings reveal a need for statewide standards to ensure that civilians with complaints about police misconduct will not be turned away, intimidated or silenced.
"We've been hearing from too many people who have had difficulty filing complaints with their local police departments," said David McGuire, staff attorney for the ACLU of Connecticut, who supervised the study. "We rely on the police for our safety, and we're grateful for their service. But we also entrust police officers with extraordinary authority, including the power to use deadly force, and this must be balanced by accountability, with a clear and reliable method for civilians to register their concerns about police conduct."
The anonymous calls to the police departments took place in January and February, the ACLU said, and they found it to be confusing to people on the correct way to file a complaint. The ACLU said it found:
Twenty-three percent of municipal police departments (excluding state police) reported having no complaint form for civilians to fill out.
Sixty-one percent of the municipal police agencies in Connecticut told the ACLU callers they would not accept anonymous complaints, although law enforcement policy experts strongly agree that police should accept complaints made anonymously. Another 10 percent could not or would not answer the question.
Threatening criminal prosecution for false complaints is widely considered a deterrent to those with legitimate complaints. But nearly two-thirds of the complaint forms posted online by municipal police departments in Connecticut contain such warnings.
Law enforcement policy experts recommend strongly against demanding a sworn statement from a civilian filing a complaint, but nearly half the complaint forms posted online by municipal police departments in Connecticut mention that requirement. Employees at several departments without online forms also mentioned the requirement to the ACLU's callers.
Only a third of departments stated that immigration authorities would not be called against a civilian complainant. More than half did not answer or expressed some degree of uncertainty and 15 percent said they would definitely report a complainant to immigration authorities.
The ACLU said that because of these findings, accepting complaints from civilians must be addressed, and the full report is recommending a set of minimum standard for all police departments in the state.
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Only a third of departments in our survey clearly stated that immigration authorities would not be called against a civilian complainant. More than half did not answer or expressed some degree of uncertainty and 15 percent said they would definitely report a complainant to immigration authorities.