Saddle Brook police officers will receive a refresher on handling citizen complaints in wake of an American Civil Liberties Union report released last week that found the force had failed to correctly answer questions the ACLU posed about internal affairs complaints.
The Saddle Brook Police Department was one of 48 departments in Bergen County where officers failed to answer all five of the ACLU's internal affairs complaints questions correctly in recent phone conversations.
Deputy Chief Robert White said officers should already know the attorney general's guidelines for taking citizen complaints from studyng for promotional exams, but that it never hurts to reiterate the information.
"All this talk about it is making me realize that we do need to go over it," White said. "We’ll come up with something to make sure that our officers know what to do."
White said he he believes most officers will brush up on the guidelines on their own, but that a complaint taking refresher during roll call shouldn't be too tough to digest.
"It's pretty simple," he said. "The right answer is that you're going to take that complaint regardless -- any complaint -- and you're going to document it."
White said he'd also like to ensure dispatchers, who answer calls placed to the police department, are aware that they need to pass on any complaint calls to supervisors or patrol officers rather than trying to answer questions themselves.
"Were going to have a discussion with dispatchers about that issue," he said. "They need to know what the limit of their authority is...I wouldn't want to in any way deter someone from making a complaint."
The department received a total of seven complaints in 2010 and 2011 combined, according to internal affairs summary reports.
All seven -- four for differential treatment, two for demeanor and one for excessive force -- were either not sustained, meaning there wasn't enough evidence to prove or disprove the allegations, or determined to be unfounded.
White said the majority of complaints the department receives come from citizens who took issue with how an officer treated them.
"Most of the time when we get them, it's emotionally charged situations where the complainant themselves is upset already," he said. "They're upset already and now the officer is trying to get some information and maybe they don't like the officer's attitude or feel that the officer might not be compassionate enough."
If an internal affairs investigation does find that an officer violated department policy, he is subject to reprimand on a progressive scale of disciplinary action that takes into consideration the severity of the offense and whether the officer is a repeat offender, White said.
For a first offense, the officer may receive an oral or written reprimand. More serious or multiple offenses could lead to fines, suspension without pay or loss of a promotional opportunity. In the most severe cases, an officer may be demoted or forced to resign.