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Police Complaints Board Releases Report on Discipline of D.C. Police Officers

Wednesday, October 14, 2020
(Report examines D.C. police disciplinary system

(Washington, DC)  – The District of Columbia Police Complaints Board (PCB), the governing body of the Office of Police Complaints (OPC), today released a report to Mayor Muriel Bowser, the Council of the District of Columbia and Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Peter Newsham examining the discipline imposed by Chief Newsham for MPD officers in response to sustained OPC complaints.

OPC receives, investigates, and resolves police misconduct complaints filed by the public against MPD and D.C. Housing Authority Police Department officers. When OPC finds through its investigation and complaint examination process that reasonable cause for police misconduct has occurred and at least one allegation is sustained, the complaint is referred to the Chief of Police for discipline. The Chief of Police must then impose an appropriate form of discipline from the Table of Penalties Guide (General Order 120.21, Disciplinary Procedures and Processes).

Over the past two years, OPC has noticed that most discipline imposed by MPD in response to sustained complaints has been reprimands or education-based development (EBD). EBD and low-level reprimands are not defined as discipline in MPD directives. OPC believes this response by MPD allows officers to believe that their behavior is acceptable and that MPD does not take complaints filed by the public seriously. Additionally, this type of disciplinary action can appear as being too lenient.

To help improve and facilitate better relations and increase trust from community members, the PCB recommends that the DC Council consider reviewing the process by which discipline is determined for OPC sustained complaints through public discussion with stakeholders.  One process that may rectify the current inequities in the process is to amend DC Code §5-1112 to include a revised procedure for determining the level of discipline for sustained allegations of misconduct based on complaints made to OPC as follows:

  1. Complaint Examiner sustains an OPC complaint,
  2. OPC transmits this finding to MPD along with a discipline recommendation from the Executive Director for the misconduct,
  3. MPD is permitted time to review the case and either accept the discipline recommendation or find a more severe penalty and impose it, or oppose the OPC recommendation with a written explanation,
  4. If MPD opposes the OPC recommendation and wants a less severe penalty then the written explanation is sent to OPC for review,
  5. MPD and OPC discuss their positions on discipline determinations and work toward a mutual agreement,
  6. If MPD and OPC cannot agree, then the case is forwarded to a panel comprised of three members of the PCB for review,
  7. The PCB panel can accept the discipline recommendation of either OPC, MPD, or reach a decision on a compromise discipline,
  8. MPD imposes the discipline decision approved by the PCB panel. 

“It is important that officers are held accountable for their actions,” said Michael G. Tobin, OPC’s executive director. “When an allegation of police misconduct is sustained by OPC, discipline should be consistent and taken seriously.”

To view the full report, visit www.policecomplaints.dc.gov.