12.07.2010

police complaint update: it's now an investigation

I met with the police again yesterday, and was so dissatisfied that I chose the third option for the complaint: I escalated it to an investigation. I don't think what happened to me warrants an investigation, but no other option was acceptable to me.

Background:

Part I: What happened.

Part II: My complaint is "withdrawn".

Part III: The OIPRD calls me.

The day after I received the call from the OIPRD, the complaint coordinator - the female detective who misinformed me - called. She was shocked - shocked! - to hear that I was withdrawing my withdrawal. In all her years in her position, this was the first time such a thing had ever happened. I told her if that's true, perhaps it's because most complainants don't discover the truth.

I related to her what I was told: that a "withdrawn" complaint is indeed withdrawn, and never intersects with the officer's performance evaluations or personnel file in any way.

I told her I believe she intentionally misled me, which gave me serious concerns, not for my complaint, but for what this might mean for the Toronto Police. How many complainants are being steered towards withdrawing complaints, believing they are doing something very different? How many legitimate complaints get buried this way?

She denied this, and denied the OIPRD's explanation of a withdrawn complaint. We set up an appointment for me to come in for another interview. I did this yesterday.

The detective was again very cordial and professional. She reiterated her version of what a "withdrawal" means - that it's the wrong word, that it does stay on the officer's file for two years, that the officer's supervisor will see it, that it is an accountability mechanism.

I reiterated what I was told by the OIPRD: that a withdrawn complaint is marked as "withdrawn" in the database of all complaints, and nothing happens after that - it is simply noted as withdrawn. I told her that if the OIPRD is correct, then I was intentionally misled.

She asked, "But why? Why would I do that?"

I felt like saying, "Isn't it obvious?" Omitting that, I said, "To reduce the number of complaints against the Toronto Police Service. To make complaints go away, to make the police force look better."

She said, "If you do that, it will only come back to bite you in the ass anyway. And besides, I have to look at myself in the mirror. I could not do my job that way."

We agreed it was strange and confusing, as both versions - hers and the OIPRD's - could not be true. She said she wouldn't speculate on the OIPRD representative's motive or how they do their job, but clearly and flatly denied that interpretation of a withdrawn complaint.

We left it at that, and then discussed my other options. The OIPRD representative thought that the informal resolution process might work for me. (Everyone is very careful to say, "I'm not telling you what to do, it's up to you, but this might be what you want...") The detective said I could do that if I want, but this complaint is not really resolved, as the officer believes her actions were justified. But meanwhile, I'm thinking that the third, higher option - investigation - seemed so unwarranted. I didn't have serious injuries, wasn't beaten up or illegally detained. It was a minor incident, I simply wanted it documented and the officer to be accountable.

I was all set to do the informal resolution process, when I asked about the other officer that was on the scene. Would it be possible to find out who that was? The detective shuffled through the papers in my file, and only then did I realize there were statements from all the officers who were present that evening.

The detective read from the male officer's statement. I heard that I darted out into the street (I did not), that the female cop "escorted" me back behind the barricades (interesting word choice!), that I yelled and cursed at the female cop, saying something like "Get your hands off me! Get the hell away from me!"

All lies. I said, "That's it, I've heard enough. We'll do the investigation."

We all know that police officers lie to protect each other. That's a well-known fact. But hearing my own story re-written in such a way just made my blood boil. I never physically attempted to walk in the street - I was arguing with the production assistant, but not getting past her. The cop did not "escort" me behind the barricade - she ran at me with both arms extended, pushed me hard against the barricades, leaned into me and yelled in my face. And I did not resist in any way. The officer seemed so angry and out of control, I was afraid that even looking at her might escalate the situation. While she yelled at me, I froze, and looked down and away from her. I did or said nothing until she released me. My hurt and surprise at my own inaction caused me to write this: "in which i learn the lasting effects of the g20 police brutality".

[An aside: the male officer on the scene noted that in an all-day film shoot, where thousands of people were similarly prevented from crossing the intersection, "the complainant" - yours truly - was the only person who caused a problem by attempting to cross the street. And it was the first time a withdrawn complaint had ever been un-withdrawn. And the first time a Heys Luggage backpack had developed rips in the mesh pockets. I'm the first writer to ever question the terms of a magazine's contracts. I'm the first support-staff employee to ask for a raise; everyone else is completely satisfied. Yes, my complaint is always the first. But I'm no trailblazer. Your complaint will probably be the first, too. It's a kind of indirect peer pressure: no one else is doing it, maybe you shouldn't do it either. Funny, my replacement backpack developed the same rips in only three weeks. What a coincidence.]

I asked the detective if she needed any more information from me. She asked if I would be willing to make a short, taped statement. I told the story into a tape recorder, she asked me a few follow-up questions, and I was on my way. I'll next hear from them in January. After a decision is made, if I am not satisfied, I can appeal to the OIPRD; the next decision of the OIPRD is final. I don't expect anything to come of this, as I didn't sustain serious injuries and I have no witnesses on my side. But at least it will be documented.

As I've said in my previous posts, what happened to me was not very serious. I know this and have acknowledged it from the outset. But if this officer was so aggressive and out-of-control over someone verbally arguing about crossing a blocked intersection, how will she react in a high-pressure situation? If her first response is to grab, shove and yell, what will she do if someone actually does yell back? She said in her statement that she was protecting me from imminent danger. Maybe my little complaint will help protect someone else from danger.

17 comments:

Mike said...

Wow what a lot of firsts, you're quite the pioneer. ;-)

johngoldfine said...

Well I won't back down
No I won't back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won't back down

No I'll stand my ground, won't be turned around
And I'll keep this world from draggin me down
gonna stand my ground
... and I won't back down

Chorus:
(I won't back down...)
Hey baby, there ain't no easy way out
(and I won't back down...)
hey I will stand my ground
and I won't back down

Well I know what's right, I got just one life
in a world that keeps on pushin me around
but I'll stand my ground
...and I won't back down

(I won't back down...)
Hey baby, there ain't no easy way out
(and I won't back down...)
hey I will stand my ground
(I won't back down)
and I won't back down...

(I won't back down...)
Hey baby, there ain't no easy way out
(I won't back down)
hey I won't back down
(and I won't back down)
hey baby, there ain't no easy way out
(and I won't back down)
hey I will stand my ground
(and I won't back down)
and I won't back down
(I won't back down)
No I won't back down...

--Tom Petty, singing about l-girl

tim said...

Unbelievable. I have been following this story since your previous post and I'm amazed at the

various manipulation tactics that they are constantly using against you.

Regarding the "withdrawn" - sounds to me like the people giving you different versions of the story

don't actually know what it means, all they know is whatever they were told in training. My

interpretation of the conflicting stories is that the supervisor probably gets some report

indicating the number of complaints about the officer and how many are withdrawn (which is probably

almost always 1:1). The supervisor likely sees that they are withdrawn and thinks of "withdrawn" in

the way you or I think of it, NOT the way that it was presented to you initially. Alternatively, and

highly likely, theres an understanding that supervisors don't look into them and don't have to

BECAUSE they're called "withdrawn"!

In either case, Plato would be proud of this demonstration of sophistry.

And regarding your overall experience with the system, specifically the amount of times you've been

presented with Option "A" and "B" and subtly coerced towards a certain one that makes them look

good, as well as the whole officer statements in the file - I don't even want to begin to think of

how many citizens (sheep!) allow this to happen and actually go with the 'recommendation' which is

based solely on "well everyone else is doing that" and allow the co-officer lies to perpetuate case

after case after case in each and every complaint file.

Its ridiculous that your only option was to take it to an investigation, but it is the only

reasonable option in the system for a complainant, given how fucked up it is.

I was going to ask why there isn't a "Submit a complaint and have it go on the officer's record"

option, but the answer to that is self-evident through your experience with them.

Kudos to you for taking this in the direction it needed to go in! This abhorrent abuse of power is unacceptable.

L-girl said...

Tim, many thanks for this thoughtful comment. It's often difficult to analyze something when you're in it, so it's relaly good to get other people's feedback.

Its ridiculous that your only option was to take it to an investigation, but it is the only reasonable option in the system for a complainant, given how fucked up it is.

That's exactly how I see it.

I was going to ask why there isn't a "Submit a complaint and have it go on the officer's record" option, but the answer to that is self-evident through your experience with them.

That's all I want to do!

tim said...

eep, no idea what happened with the spacing on that.

Amy said...

Will you take anyone with you to the hearing? It sounds like you might be bullied by the others, and having a friendly face with you might be helpful.

I think John's song selection is very appropriate. I am impressed with your willingness to continue to pursue this in the face of so much red tape and lying and frustration.

L-girl said...

Thanks, Amy. (And thanks John for the lyrics. :) )

There's no hearing. I gave my statement both in writing and on tape. I only meet with this one detective, who is the "Unit Complaint Coordinator".

tim said...

I am impressed with your willingness to continue to pursue this in the face of so much red tape and lying and frustration.

If she didn't continue the pursuit, I would be asking where the real L-girl is and when she'll be coming back!

Amy said...

You are absolutely right, Tim!

Keep us posted, Laura.

deang said...

I'm so glad you're doing this, Laura. Hopefully, it really will protect other people in the future from the kinds of acts you encountered.

Some Person said...

You're making it difficult to run an efficient problem-free police department...which I suppose is kind of the result of serious activism. Good show!

tornwordo said...

I once sat in a courtroom while a policeman lied through his teeth about giving me a ticket. I stood up, addressed the judge and said, "Your honor, I remember this incident extremely well, and THAT is not the officer who gave me the ticket. His testimony should be stricken from the record because it isn't true." Thankfully, the judge believed me and threw out the citation.

There was another time long ago in Long Beach California where I called to complain about police behaviour. I was told, "There is no process for a citizen to make a complaint." I'm sure that's just the way they'd all like it to be.

Tom Kertes said...

This makes me really sad. Sorry. I think of you every time I cross the border.

As a child care provider I hope to work with children to share the value and joy of being in a non-authoritarian space, of being a person and in a community based on shared respect for each other.

Dharma Seeker said...

Wow. Good for you. My Dad works for that agency now so I can ask him his thoughts on interpreting "withdrawal" if you like. Each police service also has a Professional Standards division. Basically internal affairs and they investigate public complains. Is that who you were dealing with?

L-girl said...

Thanks, DS. I am dealing with the Unit Complaints Coordinator, who reports to Professional Standards.

Do you mean your dad works for the OIPRD?

Dharma Seeker said...

Indeed he does. He took a contract position with them after he retired. Not sure when it wraps up but his role is to interview complaintants (as I understand it) so he should have a pretty good understanding of what "withdrawal" actually means (though I gather from your posts we can probably find the meaning in any dictionary).

L-girl said...

(though I gather from your posts we can probably find the meaning in any dictionary)

Ha ha ha, very good. If you wouldn't mind, I would love to hear what your father says about what happens to a withdrawn complaint. Such as, who sees it, does it show on the officer's record or personnel file, is there any accountability. Thank you!