Subtle omission keeps complaints against PCPD, use-of-force numbers secret
Did a Park City police officer in 2009 use pepper spray on anyone or draw their gun on a suspect?
And did anyone lodge a complaint against a police officer, perhaps claiming officer misconduct or rudeness by an officer?
Someone reading the Park City Police Department’s recently released annual report, which covers activity in 2009, would not have answers to those sorts of questions, a result of a subtle change to the formatting of the report.
The Police Department this year removed two telling sections of the report that had in previously years provided basic information about complaints lodged against officers and the number of instances officers used force, such as engaging someone physically or using a baton against someone.
It is the first time since 2003 that neither of the sections was included in the annual report, which is delivered to Mayor Dana Williams, the Park City Council, top-ranking City Hall officials and the media.
The section containing the information about complaints had been published in the report since 2005. The use-of-force numbers were included in the report starting in 2004. Their inclusion followed a period of discontent among some rank-and-file officers about the management of the Police Department and the earlier formation of a citizens committee that holds a limited role in reviewing some complaints against the department.
The release of the information and the seating of the citizens committee were seen as important steps as the Police Department strived to become more transparent.
Police Chief Wade Carpenter said the use-of-force figures in 2009 were "uneventful" and similar to previous years. There were three complaints filed against the police in 2009, the police chief said, a fifth of the number recorded in the year before.
Carpenter said City Hall’s attorneys requested the data be removed from the report in an effort to protect the privacy of police officers with complaints filed against them and the privacy of officers who used force.
In a written statement to The Park Record explaining the change, the police chief and a City Hall attorney said there is a "small number" of complaints against officers and instances when the police use force.
"However, with that small number comes the risk that the officer or case at issue may become readily identifiable, even though the name of the complainants and/or officers is not specifically disclosed in the year end report," the statement said.
The statement indicated some information about complaints and instances of force being used is typically designated a public record that is releasable under state open-records laws. The statement said, though, City Hall has a "compelling interest to review requests for documents and records on a case-by-case basis only — to verify that all public information is appropriately disclosed while ensuring that protected records are maintained according to statutory requirements."
"We also need to protect the rights of employees, our employees, and the rights of victims," Carpenter said in an interview, adding that the existence of the citizens committee heightens the Police Department’s accountability to the public.
The police chief, though, said he does not oppose the two sections being included in the annual report.
The number of complaints against officers and instances of force being used steadily climbed during the years they were listed in the annual report.
In 2008, the most recent year in which the statistics were included in the report, 15 complaints were investigated. Twelve use-of-force instances were logged in 2008, according to that year’s report.
During the years the figures were released, the use-of-force numbers were as low as one instance, tallied in 2004, and the complaints were as low as the six lodged in 2005.
Under the previous formatting of the complaint section of the annual report, the police listed the type of allegations lodged against officers, the status of the claim and whether an officer was disciplined. Names of the officers and the people who lodged the complaints were not listed.
The use-of-force section under the old formatting tallied the number of instances in five categories — physical, baton, pepper spray, firearm and other. Officer names were not included.
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