Police watchdog group makes headway on backlog

Despite a staffing shortage, a recent office move and a leadership change, The City’s police watchdog group has made long strides this year in investigating reports of police misconduct.

According to the third-quarter report of the Office of Citizen Complaint, which goes before the Board of Supervisors today, the agency has closed 55 more than cases than it opened as of September this year, allowing investigators to chisel away at a backlog that has drawn criticism from the police officers union and the San Francisco Police Commission alike.

Anybody can file a complaint to the OCC if they feel a police officer has mistreated them. Cases vary from physical brutality to rude behavior. A team of lawyers and investigators sifts through the complaints and passes on valid cases to the police commission, which has the power to fire or impose long suspensions.

In some cases, the office brings forward a pro bono mediator who helps works out solutions between citizens and the officers they file complaints about. In 2007, the OCC mediated 30 cases to date, already the most in the office’s history.

The OCC has been under fire for years, but an audit released in January brought the most heat. It faulted the agency for poor management, poor individual performance and major delays in filing cases.

Former OCC Director Kevin Allen resigned in the midst of the audit, citing health reasons for his departure. Jean Field took over as interim director of the office, overseeing a move near City Hall.

“Throughout 2007, we’ve really come together as a staff,” Field said Monday. “We have a great office, and it’s really nice to be located next the rest of the city services.”

The OCC’s latest director faces new challenges. Joyce Hicks, former director of the Oakland police oversight board, started last week, and she already faces a staffing shortage. The office has 14 investigators to work on an average of 800 to 900 cases per year.

Gary Delagnes, president of The City’s police union, is one of the OCC’s most vocal critics. He said he’s not necessarily against civilian oversight of the police, but he is against lengthy investigations and frivolous complaints.

“What we’re looking for is more timely investigation,” Delagnes said. “A cop shouldn’t have to wait a year and half to hear their cases.”

The Office of Citizen Complaints is now located on the seventh floor of 25 Van Ness Ave.

bbegin@examiner.com

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