Public Comment

Numbers of Complaints Against Police Not the Whole Story

By Carol Denney
Thursday May 31, 2012 - 04:04:00 PM

“I get very few complaints,” Chanin said. “The officers I’ve met do a good job.” - Berkeley Patch story by Rebecca Rosen Lum cited in the Berkeley Daily Planet.

Those who cite fewer complaints as proof that the Berkeley police are less brutal or corrupt manage to forget the impact state constraints have had on what was once a public and robust complaint system. People who use the current system not only end up without any justice, they become police targets with little recourse when the officers about whom they complained retaliate. 

The dozens of lawyers I used to work with twenty years ago at Community Defense Inc., now rarely take cases with low damages, and no longer use the Police Review Commission complaint system since they can no longer get information which used to be routine due to state employee privacy restrictions. The Berkeley Police department also has a sizeable public relations budget now, which was minimal twenty years ago. 

Complaint volume should never be used as a measure of a police department's relations with the public. Those who had the courage to follow through on what always was an arduous and intimidating civilian complaint process were always a minority of those who experienced misconduct, and remain an even smaller minority today.