Aurora police internal affairs policies do not comply with justice department best practices

Experts question Aurora police internal policies

AURORA, Colo. - Aurora Police Internal Affairs, which has been the focus of a CALL7 Investigation into ignored complaints against officers, has policies and staffing levels that experts say are not in compliance with nationally recognized best practices.

CALL7 Investigators found Aurora warns people who complain against officers that they could be charged with false reporting if police determine their complaint is untrue. Department policy also puts supervisors in a position to investigate many serious complaints against their underlings.

A 2009 U.S. Department of Justice-funded study, called "Standards and Guidelines for Internal Affairs," recommends that departments avoid those practices.

"(N)o threats or warnings of prosecution for filing a false complaint should be made orally or in writing to a complainant," the report says.

Aurora's online police complaint specifically warns of prosecution for filing false complaints.

"While supporting the reporting of legitimate complaints as a means by which the department can be accountable to the public, the department also seeks to hold members of the public responsible for the reporting of false and malicious allegations. The Aurora Police Department will initiate appropriate legal action in cases involving false reporting. It is a criminal offense to knowingly make a false report to law enforcement authorities. (Aurora City Code Sections 94-380, 94-381, 94-390: Colorado Revised Statutes 18-8-111)," says the message above the "Submit Report" button for complaints against officers.

Metro State University Professor Joseph Sandoval, who teaches criminology and reviewed documents at our request, said the warning is not proper.

"People are afraid to complain against police officers anyway because of the 'retaliate factor' and then for it to be blatant and right out front, just seems to me to be inappropriate," he said. 

Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates declined repeated requests for an interview about his internal affairs policies, but Aurora Deputy Chief Terry Jones, who talked to us outside a city council meeting, defended the practice of warning complainants.

"It tells them that they can't make a false report," Jones said. "A lot of times people make a lot of false reports against the police for one reason and one reason only -- to get out of the crime that they've allegedly committed, out of a traffic ticket, out of a criminal investigation -- so that's the reason the explanation is at the bottom of the document." 

Experts say the department's policies may have allowed two former Aurora officers -- Michael Mangino and Morgan Sellman -- to stay on the force for years despite people lodging serious allegations against them.

"The public who are the people paying for these officer's salaries, paying for the cost of running a department are entitled to make sure that they have a department of unquestioned integrity and of the highest integrity," said Richard Brzeczek, who was a Chicago police officer for nearly two decades who headed the Chicago Police Department for three years.

Brzeczek, who reviewed documents at our request, now works as an attorney and has taught internal affairs procedures for decades.

CALL7 Investigators reported Sellman's girlfriend told Aurora internal affairs that she found child pornography in Sellman's apartment. Her complaint came 10 years before he was arrested after a different department found child porn on his web server.

Aurora police never interviewed Sellman about his former girlfriend's allegation and the records were destroyed. He was made a DARE officer after the allegation, working with children for at least a year before being transferred.

Sellman subsequently pled guilty to sexually exploiting a child after Colorado Springs police caught him with hundreds of children porn imagines, police records show. He spent 90 days in jail.

CALL7 Investigators also found Mangino had complaints dating back to 1985, but was allowed to remain on the force and he allegedly sexually abused people for years, police reports show. Mangino pleaded guilty in 2012 to one count of sexually exploiting a child. He served 90 days in jail.

A year before Mangino's arrest, a Colorado Department of Corrections supervisor gathered statements from women at a treatment facility that alleged Mangino showed up with a bottle of liquor to have sex with a resident at the facility, who was a prostitute, records show.

According to the records, Aurora Police Internal Affairs sent the report to Mangino's supervisor Sgt. Damon Vaz, who said he did not find the statements to be credible and threw them away.

He was never charged with any of the other abuse allegations described in the Aurora police reports.

Brzeczek and the DOJ study says supervisors should not be investigating serious complaints against their underlings.

"Supervisors can investigate complaints," Brzeczek said. "But those are the kinds of complaints which are the administrative role violations.  An officer being out of uniform, taking an unauthorized lunch period, those kinds of things.

"Here's an allegation that carries with it at least an implication of a criminal offense possibly have taken place," he said, referring to the Mangino case. "That has to go to a unit that is trained in investigations and trained in internal investigations."

Jones defended the Aurora policy, which reads: "Complaints will generally be assigned to the named member's immediate supervisor" for initial investigation.

"Well if I were to make a complaint on you who would I go to first?" he asked CALL7 Investigator Keli Rabon. "I would go to probably, in all likelihood, go to your supervisor -- the person who has direct contact with you as an individual. That's why they don't automatically go to internal affairs."

The DOJ study, which commissioned a group of top police officers from around the nation to come up with best practices, also says internal affairs departments should undergo regular audits and have undercover citizens try to file complaints to make sure the allegations are taken seriously. The DOJ intro said the study's recommendations are not necessarily the views of the justice department.

Jones said Aurora police put out an annual report listing commendations and discipline. In contrast, Denver has an independent monitor who reviews how police complaints were handled.

Also, CALL7 Investigators reviewed the amount of internal affairs staffing at various metro departments and calculated it as a percentage of personnel and complaints. We found Aurora has the second fewest internal investigators per complaint and per sworn officer.

The figures show Aurora has three IA officers, including a supervisor, for about 600 sworn officers, meaning the department has about 200 sworn personnel per investigator. Therefore, each investigator would have handled about 90 complaints in 2011.

By contrast, Denver police have 15 internal affairs officers, including supervisors and three technicians, for about 1,450 sworn officers. That means the average IA staffer in Denver handled 35 complaints in 2011. There were an average of 90 officers for every IA staff member in Denver.

"One thing is that their internal affairs operation is overwhelmed," Brzeczek said. "It may also explain that this is the reason why they ship so many (complaints) over to supervisors."

Jones said Aurora constantly looks at its policies but staffing levels are appropriate.

"Departments staff their personnel as they see fit," he said. "And I would say the number of internal affairs we have seems to fit adequately for us."

 

-- Response from Aurora PD--

 

The Aurora Police Department posted this response to their Facebook page Friday:

Channel 7 produced another report on the Aurora Police Department on February 14, both on the air and on its website. There were errors in that report that require correction.

Channel 7 reported: “(Deputy Chief) Jones defended the Aurora policy, which reads: ‘Complaints will generally be assigned to the named member's immediate supervisor’ for initial investigation.”

The Channel 7 report then gives the clear impression, through its reporting, that only the member’s immediate supervisor acts on a complaint when it comes in. In fact, the entire chain of command evaluates the complaint and reviews the investigation, up to the Division Chief. The most serious complaints against officers are forwarded by the Chief of Police to the Internal Affairs Unit for investigation.

The Aurora Police Department publishes a comprehensive annual report on discipline.  The most recent report, The 2011 Annual Awards, Commendations, Complaints, and Discipline Report, provides a comprehensive explanation of APD complaint and internal investigative process. This is available to the public at https://www.auroragov.org/cs/groups/public/documents/document/013523.pdf. Channel 7 was provided this document on January 4, 2013. An excerpt from the report explains as follows:

“The system directs the complaint or commendation to the officer’s immediate supervisor for an investigation. The supervisor reports his/her finding to his/her supervisor, who approves or disapproves the investigation. That process continues until the officer’s Division Chief ultimately reviews all decisions in the chain of command and approves the investigation and resulting actions.

“Safeguards built into the system include the following: no one can delete the complaint or commendation. Only one supervisor can work on the complaint at a time (following the chain of command). Supervisors can add information but cannot remove it. All information inserted into the system is saved, documenting the date and time submitted and by whom. Supervisors can search the system to determine if the officer has like complaints and or commendations.” (2011 Annual Awards, Commendations, Complaints, and Discipline Report. P.2)

Channel 7 also reported: “The figures show Aurora has three IA officers, including a supervisor, for about 600 sworn officers, meaning the department has about 200 sworn personnel per investigator. Therefore, each investigator would have handled about 90 complaints in 2011.”

We must assume that Channel 7 came up with this number by taking the total number of complaints that came into the above mentioned system in 2011 and divided that by the three Internal Affairs investigators.  APD received a total of 268 complaints through the complaint system in 2011. Ten (10) of these 268 were eventually turned over to the Internal Affairs Unit. The Internal Affairs Unit conducted a total of 36 formal internal investigations during the year (2011 Annual Awards, Commendations, Complaints, and Discipline Report,  p.5).  A total of 36 cases for three investigators is a much more manageable caseload than the Channel 7 report implies.

The document to which Channel 7 refers to as “best practices” for internal affairs investigations, Standards and Guidelines for Internal Affairs: Recommendations from a Community of Practice, also includes this statement: “It was not a goal of the group to fashion rigid and confining rules or standards binding all American law enforcement agencies. Neither was it the goal to impose best practices that would create a single measuring stick with which to judge each agency. (p.12)” This same document further states it is the product of its authors and “should not be considered an endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the U.S. Department of Justice. (p. 3)”

The Aurora Police Department is a nationally accredited police agency. Only three percent of all law enforcement agencies in the United States achieve such accreditation, which is given by the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). The APD’s internal affairs processes have been thoroughly vetted against CALEA’s rigorous standards, and the Department is evaluated for its compliance with all of CALEA’s standards for best practices every three years.

The underlying subject of the Channel 7 report is the Department’s handling of two former police officers, Michael Mangino and Morgan Sellman.  A nine-minute video by Chief Oates explains the Department’s handling of these two cases and is available at this link:

http://www.youtube.com/user/theaurorapolice

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