Last month, a Haines assembly member made public several critical accounts of the police department. The action motivated the union representing the officers to file a grievance against the borough. At its most recent meeting, the public safety commission continued the conversation of how complaints against the police should be dealt with.
“There’s very recent history with this,” said commission chair Jim Stanford. “I knew what was happening with the complaints. People, they weren’t satisfied with what was going on. So as a result, this wound up in the Assembly’s packets. I see the process as being really flawed. Somewhere it broke down.”
Stanford is referring to an assembly meeting in April, when Assemblyman Tom Morphet publically presented four accounts of negative interactions with police. They included the officer’s names. His action was condemned by police chief Heath Scott, and the union representing the police officers filed a grievance with the borough.
“It wasn’t my intent when I disclosed those complaints to the borough to seek any action against those officers but to raise this question of how the police encounter the public and to have a public discussion,” said Morphet.
The complaints Morphet brough forward weren’t the only police interactions at issue in the meeting. A couple residents talked about their experiences with police.
Ray Staska didn’t want to get into the details of his situation, but spoke up generally about his discontent with the department.
“I don’t want it to be exposed in the public. But I am damn pissed off at one officer’s procedures in this town. I’ve been here over 30 years. And if it happens again, I won’t just go to the chief, I’ll go waste my money on an attorney,” said Staska.
Dean Lari recently had a drug charges against him dismissed because of issues with the police investigation.
“We need some kind of accountability,” said Lari. “When police officers investigate themselves obviously they’re going to find themselves doing nothing wrong.”
Scott said there is a procedure to deal with complaints against the department.
“There is an appropriate way to bring these complaints into the police department without eroding the public’s sense of trust in us,” said Scott.
Scott said he is the one that investigates the majority of complaints. When someone has a grievance, they fill out a form and give it to the police dispatcher or himself. Then, he takes into account all statements provided in the complaints. He also has to consider the officer’s rights as negotiated in a collective bargaining agreement with the union. Then there’s departmental policy and borough policy to consider. Scott said if someone doesn’t feel comfortable going to the police with their complaint, they can take it to the borough manager.
“Most of the time, nine times out of ten, the public is not going to see the outcome,” said Scott. “I give that complaint to the borough manager. It is considered a personnel action. Unless it is criminal.”
Despite some clear public discontent with how complaints are handled, Scott said it is essential to follow the procedures in place.