Most Validated Complaints Of D.C. Police Misconduct Don't Result In Serious Discipline Many were met with low-level reprimands or additional training.
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NPR logo Most Validated Complaints Of D.C. Police Misconduct Don't Result In Serious Discipline

Most Validated Complaints Of D.C. Police Misconduct Don't Result In Serious Discipline

The D.C. police department has faced calls for reform in recent months. Tony Hisgett/Flickr hide caption

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Tony Hisgett/Flickr

The majority of recent validated complaints of police misconduct in D.C. were not met with serious punishment, a new report finds.

The report, released Wednesday by the D.C. Police Complaints Board, which operates independently from MPD, found that in fiscal years 2018 and 2019, roughly 60% of all sustained complaints of misconduct resulted in low-level reprimands or additional training.

"It is important that officers are held accountable for their actions," Michael Tobin, the Office of Police Complaints' executive director said in a press release. "When an allegation of police misconduct is sustained by OPC, discipline should be consistent and taken seriously."

When members of the Metropolitan Police Department or D.C. Housing Authority Police Department are accused by the public of harassment, retaliation, using inappropriate language or conduct, unnecessary or excessive force, discrimination, or failing to identify themselves, OPC is the agency that investigates.

Following the investigation, OPC may refer the case to a complaint examiner if it determines there is reasonable cause to believe the misconduct occurred. If an allegation is then sustained by the examiner, the case is referred to the police chief, though OPC is not currently allowed to make disciplinary recommendations.

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In those instances, the chief of police must impose an appropriate penalty from the department's Table of Penalties Guide, but according to Wednesday's report, the department frequently goes outside that guide when imposing punishments (additional training, or education-based development, is not considered discipline, so it is not listed in the guide).

"These minor disciplinary sanctions allow officers to believe that complaints from community members are unimportant and that MPD tolerates, or endorses, behaviors likely to produce complaints," the report states.

The report comes in the wake of large-scale demonstrations against racial injustice and police brutality in D.C. over the summer, following the May killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Many participants called for a fundamental reimagining of policing.

The PCB recommends that the D.C. Council consider changes to the disciplinary process, similar to models in Oakland and Chicago.

As part of the new process, OPC would be allowed to send sustained complaints to MPD along with a disciplinary recommendation. If the department disagreed with the recommendation, it would have to give OPC a written explanation.

If the two could not come to a mutual agreement on discipline, the case would be passed along to a panel of three PCB members for review.

MPD did not immediately respond to DCist's request for comment on the report or PCB's recommendations.

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