The Geneva Police Department has promised to fix their broken police complaint process for six years, but little to nothing has changed.
Community Compact Highlights Police Complaint Problems
In 2011, Corey Jackson, an unarmed black man, was shot in the head and killed by Geneva Police during a traffic stop. In response, the US Department of Justice sent a representative to Geneva to meet with community members, as well as police department representatives, to investigate and take steps toward addressing the strained police-community relationship, especially between the police and people of color in the city.
The result was a mediation agreement (referred to as the “Community Compact”) that was signed by city and community leaders in late 2011, and laid out specific steps to be taken to address the identified issues. The agreement included the stipulation that after five years, the agreement would be revisited and, if necessary, an updated agreement would be created.
Many residents spoke about problems with the process that citizens must follow to file a complaint against a police officer, so the final 2011 agreement included the following section:
When the Community Compact was updated and signed by community and city leaders in late 2016, the above section was retained. However, an additional number of steps to reform the Citizen Complaint process were added to the new agreement:
It’s clear that the process for filing complaints against police officers in Geneva has been identified as an ongoing problem area. So what, if anything, has actually been done since 2011?
No Info On Police Complaints On City Website
As of this writing, if you visit the City of Geneva’s website and go to the page for the Geneva Police Department, there is no information available to assist citizens with filing a complaint against a police officer.
This is a police department that has been under scrutiny for six years because their police complaint process is flawed, yet there is no way for a citizen to file a complaint (or even learn about the process of filing a complaint) on the the department’s website.
If you visit the GPD’s page, you’ll see this list of links:
There is a prominent link to the Officer Commendation Form, where citizens can praise GPD officers for “commendable or exceptional service,” but there is no way to file a police complaint.
You can pay a parking ticket, report a crime, join the Citizens Police Academy, and read about the history of police in Geneva, but there is no way to file a police complaint.
Even though the 2016 Community Compact (pictured above) includes a link to the Citizens Complaint Form, there is NO link to the form on the entire City of Geneva website.
It would seem that either:
1. The Geneva Police Department wants to make it difficult for citizens to file complaints against officers,
2. The Geneva Police Department simply doesn’t care about making their police complaint process any easier.
Complaint Resource Assistants: More Transparency Or More BS?
Most Genevans are accustomed to being misled and even lied to by city officials, so it should come as no surprise that the city is championing a new effort to ‘enhance transparency’ which will actually have no effect on transparency in the police complaint process.
In August of 2017, the City of Geneva breathlessly announced that they would be adding “Complaint Resource Assistants” to the police complaint process, and asked for volunteers to participate in these new roles:
Would you like to support the Geneva Police Department’s effort to enhance transparency?
The Geneva Police Department and the Geneva Community Compact Steering Committee are excited to announce the beginning of recruitment for volunteers to support a transparent complaint process for the department. Complaint Resource Assistants will be trained in department protocol and policies, and will provide technical support to anyone seeking to report issues with department personnel. These volunteer assistants will be available to hear complaints against department personnel, educate the public on policies and procedures for the department, and navigate the complaint process to ensure that complaints are received, reported, and resolved in an effective manner.
A cursory glance at this announcement might make the reader think, “Hey, this is a big step forward! This sounds a little bit like those Citizens Review Boards that I’ve heard about. It’s encouraging that the city is making the police complaint process more transparent after so many years of secrecy!”
That reader would be wrong.
First, it’s clear that these “Complaint Resource Assistants” will primarily fill the role of being a go-between for citizens who want to report police officers for bad conduct. There is no mention of citizens being involved in the investigations and no mention of what happens if a Complaint Resource Assistant notices a flaw in the process.
But will it increase transparency?
Let’s look at the application for Complaint Resource Assistant positions, specifically the qualifications:
If all of the “Complaint Resource Assistants” are required to sign non-disclosure agreements and maintain confidentiality, how can the city claim with a straight face that the addition of these citizen volunteers will help enhance transparency?
So, to summarize:
This isn’t about accountability or improving the police complaint process. It’s about putting community members in place who will then be expected to reassure those who file complaints against the GPD that everything is being handled properly.
Enough Is Enough
For the past six years, city officials have been repeatedly assuring the residents of Geneva that the police department is making improvements in community relations.
Last month, it was discovered that a veteran GPD officer had publicly posted racist memes on his Facebook page between 2012 and 2015.
The citizens of Geneva now have no other choice than to assume that the police department is unable to police their own ranks.
The US Department of Justice came to Geneva in 2011, and again in 2016, and confirmed that we have serious problems with police and community relations, especially for people of color, in our little city.
The Geneva Police Department has had six years to move things in the right direction, and what do they have to show for it? One cop publicly sharing racist images on social media, and a phony and insulting attempt to “enhance transparency” of the police complaint process.
Both the Community Compact and the Complaint Resource Assistants effort emphasize that the solution to the problems with the police complaint process is educating people on the process. There is NO acknowledgment that the process may be flawed, only the inference that the citizens are simply ignorant about the process, and that they must go to the police to be ‘educated,’ which would ostensibly alleviate all their concerns.
Enough is enough.
It’s time for the residents of Geneva to demand a Citizen Review Board be implemented and funded. This board, made up of a diverse collection of residents, must be given the authority to investigate complaints, conduct interviews, and hold the police department accountable for misconduct.
We need to stop asking the city and the GPD to do the right thing and start telling them what we want and need. They work for us.
The next City Council meeting is Wednesday October 4th, 7:00pm at the Public Safety Building. We hope to see you there.