The Durango Police Department investigated 16 citizen complaints in 2020 – then asked a panel of community members to check their work.
The department conducts its own internal investigations and decides the appropriate next steps, like disciplinary action. Then, once a year, the Citizen Complaint Review Panel reviews the investigations. It’s a way to align the department with the culture and vision of the community while building public trust, said Deputy Chief Brice Current.
“For us internally, it’s easier to justify our actions based on our internal culture,” Current said. “But it’s better to try to be transcendent and see through the eyes of the community, the people you serve.”
During the review process, panel members review the complaint and associated records, such as reports and videos. Then they come together with the department and go through each complaint in detail.
In the past, panel members have offered feedback on the degree to which a complaint was investigated, the level and type of disciplinary action, and whether the investigation was handled appropriately.
Of the 16 complaints from 2020 reviewed by the panel, the majority related to conduct. Some also dealt with vehicle use, report writing, and directives and orders.
Only one was sustained and resulted in disciplinary action. The shift sergeant, who received the complaint, investigated it and found the officer did not follow a “small procedural policy” during a traffic stop, Current said.
The sergeant issued training and a written warning, called a counseling record. The officer was receptive and it turned into a positive situation, he said.
In 2019, the panel reviewed 15 complaints primarily related to conduct and ethics. Two were sustained after the department’s internal investigations.
The review panel checked 10 complaints from 2018, six of which were sustained by the police department’s internal investigations.
During investigations, Durango police check for policy violations and anything outside the boundaries of social norms, like rudeness for example, Current said. Discipline can include training, counseling, written reprimands, loss of leave, suspension and demotion.
The department uses the community feedback to inform its internal practices, such as investigation and documentation processes.
“We take their information, and it holds us to a higher standard while we’re investigating complaints,” Current said.
The review panel is a department policy, not a legal requirement. Durango’s policy does not outline what materials must be shared with the panel, but Current said the police department releases all of the information about a complaint to panel members.
“To bring in a group and be that transparent is something a lot of police departments don’t do,” Current said. “We don’t have to do that, but Chief (Bob) Brammer feels it’s important to allow the community into our house and for us to listen.”
Department leaders, primarily Current and Brammer, select the members of the review panel. They look for people who are problem-solvers, who think outside of the box, and who will assess the department’s actions critically.
“They’re not just going to roll over and say, ‘Hey, you guys are doing a good job,’ but look at us with an investigative eye,” Current said.
Ann Morse, executive director of Manna, a Durango soup kitchen, has served on the panel for two years.
“The overall feeling, for me, is very positive. The police department is very transparent and proactive with the suggestions that the CCRP has,” Morse said. “I think it’s really important to bridge and build that trust between the community and the Durango Police Department. ... It’s just great for the community’s voice to be heard.”
The 2021 panel included Morse along with Fort Lewis College employees, judicial and city representatives, and community advocates. They reviewed complaints in late March.
“Where we have full procedural knowledge of how we do things, they see things very differently,” Current said. “Seeing the citizens’ point of view will help us build public trust and will also help us change the way we do our internal investigations.”