PAB investigated five cases out of 18 reported complaints, lack of body-camera usage, problems with transparency
On Feb. 21 in the Garrison Room of the Memorial Union, Police Accountability Board members held a Winter Quarter public meeting and unpacked their 2016-2017 annual report. The board reviewed complaints and grievances concerning UC Davis police officers from the UC Davis campus and Sacramento UC Davis Medical Center campus. UC Davis police serve both locations.
In attendance was Megan Macklin, a program manager for the Office of Campus Community Relations, Staff Assembly member Peter Blando and alternate Academic Federation member Kara Carr. Wendy Lilliedoll, the director of investigations for the Office of Compliance and Policy, also serves on the Administrative Advisory Board of the PAB and was present at the meeting.
The board members talked about the lack of students and community members at their quarterly meeting — there were none at the Feb. 21 meeting — and discussed outreach on Facebook and rescheduling for more accessible times.
“We tend to get zero to two people as members of the public,” Lilliedoll said. “We tend not to have a lot of folks that have questions for us, but we certainly welcome that. It is open to anyone who comes in, and we don’t have a prepared agenda. We describe what we do, who we are. Last public meeting, we had the police chief here.”
At this meeting, the police chief was not present, nor were any police representatives.
Of the 18 complaints submitted to the PAB from June 2016 to June 2017, 17 cases were reviewed and five of the 17 were investigated. The 2016-2017 report concluded that 12 cases did not proceed through investigation, either because the “PAB received insufficient information to proceed (eight cases), or because they were dismissed as outside of PAB’s purview (four cases).”
According to the report, cases designated as “outside of PAB’s purview” may include cases where the UC policy overrides PAB’s scrutunity.
Five cases accused officers of excessive use of force. Two other complaints cited intimidation by police officer. Both were dismissed. Another complaint included in the annual report included assault by police officer, which was dropped for “insufficient evidence.”
One complaint currently under investigation is a case from Sacramento that reported an officer who allegedly failed to identify why the complainant was stopped and excessive force was used. Of the four excessive force complaints that have been completed, the two that were investigated found that allegations against the police were “unsustained” and “unfounded,” according to the annual report. The other two were not investigated due to lack of information.
The vast majority of complaints don’t proceed through investigation. Lilliedoll responded to whether it is a function of PAB to find complaints unfounded, or if a lack of evidence — such as camera footage — makes it impossible to proceed. According to Lilliedoll, some reports are also too vague, or may be anonymous. It also may, however, be due to the lengthy interviewing process that reporting parties must agree too.
“Typically, if there is a matter than should be investigated, we charge an investigation and it’s counted in those five,” Lilliedoll said. “Maybe, when the investigator goes to investigate, they’re unable to get the complainant to follow-up. That would be reported in the five. The other, the twelve, would be situations where someone submits a complaints to me, or a letter someone wrote to the police department, but they haven’t identified the officer involved. They say ‘I was treated badly,’ but they haven’t given me enough information. I write back and say I need more information, and then the person never responds.”
Another situation in which a complaint becomes dismissed is when “someone makes a complaint but the circumstance they allege is not a violation of policy,” which is when the PAB begins to explore the need for adjusting certain policies and protocols.
When asked if there are situations where there might be a problematic policy to analyze, Lilliedoll said that “if it comes back that the police officer was following their policy, the board might say, ‘OK, I know that’s considered to be accepted.’” However, Lilliedoll said they might ask UC Davis police if “maybe we should have a different standard on a college campus when we’re engaging with this particular population than you might have somewhere else.”
Blando said that investigating officers can be hindered by policy.
“Sometimes it’s a policy issue,” Blando said. “Based on the policy, well, they’re exonerated, because they followed exactly what the policy says they should do. But maybe you should take a look at this policy for review. The complaint is perhaps against the police department, their behavior, what they did, but if the police officer is following their policy or what their training says they should do, they’re following the proper procedures. It doesn’t look great, or there’s some concern about it, but the police officers is exonerated because they’re following their training and policy.”
In explaining the function of her department, Lilliedoll talked about how the Office of Compliance and Policy is a third party that investigates for the PAB.
“The trained investigators in my department have an opportunity to talk to both the person who made the complaint and the officer involved and any witnesses,” Lilliedoll said. “They also have the opportunity to correct relevant evidence — like to the extent that there is body camera footage or car camera footage, police reports, [and] any information that the witnesses or parties prevent.”
The PAB has asked UC Davis to make a decision regarding UC-wide body camera usage as part of recommendations included in the 2016-2017 annual report. UC campuses are currently not mandated to but are allowed to use body-cameras if the individual police officers buy one themselves.
The board members say UCOP may have provided a hurdle to the usage of body cameras at individual UC campus. UCOP has asked individual campuses not to make a decision regarding body camera usage, although some individual officers choose to use body cameras. There is no current law requiring this, which has led to accusations against the police regarding lack of transparency and abuse of power, specifically in the Picnic Day Five case and in the case of a UC Davis protester facing four charges.
Currently, the “Police Chief has noted that the UCDPD is waiting for direction from a forthcoming UC systemwide policy,” according to the annual report. Lilliedoll stated that “there’s no specific policy in terms of who needs to be wearing it and when it needs to be activated” and stated the police department has “been asked by the system not to come up with an individual campus policy” regarding body-camera usage.
Key findings that the PAB addressed in the annual report included the “use of body camera footage” and “something that the PAB has returned to over and over again in terms of being useful in these situations to have a concrete policy that the police is expected to follow with respect to when body cameras are used.”
Another potential hurdle Lilliedoll alluded to was a lack of follow-up when a complainant doesn’t want to go through what the committee admits can be an arduous process. According to Lilliedoll, the PAB won’t investigate a case when the complainant “[doesn’t] want to go through the formal investigation process, which involves sitting down with the investigator and going through this whole thing.”
Lilliedoll says sometimes they just wants the “PAB to know about it,” but they aren’t able to do anything. A full investigation would not allow whoever reported the complaint to remain anonymous, and can only take place if the complainant sits down with an investigator and goes through a questioning process.
When asked if students are perhaps not motivated to report due to the arduous investigation or emotional labor process, or if they feel like they deserve a level of anonymity, Lilliedoll replied saying they “need to have factual information about what actually happened.” Still, Lilliedoll said that they “aren’t trying to create an artificial hurdle to making complaints.”
“We don’t go out and poll and ask people if they want us to do a review,” Lilliedoll said. “If it doesn’t come to us, we don’t review it. Any member of the public that has a concern should come to us. There’s the website, or they can call us directly, or they can fill out a form and take it to the police department.”
Blando discussed how the lack of civilian access to police information can sometimes also be a problem regarding transparency and accountability.
“We haven’t bridged the gap between privacy issues, because there’s a lot of legal issues with the privacy and what we can disclose publicly at these sessions,” Blando said. “The police chief and the investigators have all the details, and [we don’t]. That’s the constraint, in terms of the PAB committee members and in talking to consistency group, we can’t say specifics.”
Written by: Aaron Liss — firstname.lastname@example.org