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office of police complaints

Office of Police Complaints

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Complaint Examination

The complaint examination process is used to resolve complaints where the executive director determines that there is “reasonable cause to believe” that police misconduct occurred. When the executive director reaches this determination, the complaint is referred to a complaint examiner who reviews it, along with OPC’s investigative report, and issues a written decision regarding the merits of the complaint. The complaint examiner may resolve the complaint based on OPC’s investigative report alone, or, if necessary, may conduct an evidentiary hearing to further develop the factual record. In practice, complaints that are neither dismissed nor successfully mediated are resolved through complaint examination, which is the only means by which OPC can issue a decision sustaining a complaint against an officer, although not all complaints that are referred to complaint examination are necessarily sustained.

If a complaint examiner sustains any allegation in a complaint, the executive director forwards the complaint examiner’s decision to the Chief of Police for review and imposition of discipline. Under certain limited circumstances, the Chief may send a decision back to OPC for further review, but, otherwise, the Chief is bound by the decision and must impose discipline on the officer as a result of the decision. If the complaint examiner does not sustain any allegation in a complaint, the executive director dismisses the complaint based on the decision. 

The complaint examination process is administered by ADR Associates, LLC, an outside alternative dispute resolution service. ADR works directly with the members of the complaint examiner pool, who are responsible for rendering final decisions on the complaints referred to them by OPC. To carry out this important function, PCB and OPC assembled a pool of distinguished attorneys who live in the District of Columbia. In addition to having a reputation for competence, impartiality, and integrity, and not being a current or former employee of MPD, the complaint examiners must be members of the District of Columbia Bar, have practiced for five years or more, and have litigation or arbitration experience. At the end of fiscal year 2006, OPC’s complaint examiner pool had 16 members. The pool includes attorneys who work in private practice, government, non-profit organizations, and academia, and have a variety of other experiences. 

Based on its experience with the operation of the complaint examination process, OPC fine-tunes and modifies the process to ensure that it operates smoothly and provides adequate protections to officers and complainants. One change OPC implemented early in the process was an opportunity for officers to submit written objections to the complaint examiner about OPC’s investigative report so the objections can be considered with the report. The objections ensure that the subject officer has an opportunity to raise any issues regarding the investigation before the complaint examiner takes any action. In addition, if a complaint examiner determines that an evidentiary hearing is necessary to resolve a complaint, OPC has taken steps to ensure that complainants have counsel available to assist them at no cost during hearings. In general, because officers are represented by attorneys or union representatives provided to them by the police union, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), OPC made arrangements with a Washington-based law firm, Howrey LLP, to provide free counsel for complainants. Howrey is an international law firm that is based in Washington, DC.  The firm has over 600 attorneys worldwide and more than 250 in Washington.

As an illustration of the types of complaints that were resolved by complaint examiners, follow the link below for summaries:

Complaint Examiner Decisions