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10 Ways to Minimize Complaints

Countless times I have dealt with citizens who came to my office with complaints regarding the conduct of law enforcers in my agency. While many of them turned out to be unfounded after an investigatory look, a few citizen initiated objections are grounded in misunderstanding and even some truth.

Giving the angry person a chance to vent certainly helps to alleviate the issue. I have felt good about that. I have also gained some satisfaction from helping to clarify the officer’s actions that were misinterpreted and lead to the resentment being displayed at my police services building office.

I found an even greater satisfaction in coaching officers to conduct their duties in a manner that offended the fewest and still resulted in an accomplishment of their police mission. In the vein of modern policing concepts, it is better for you to be proactive, not reactive, when it comes to the creation of complaints on your conduct.

You can be respectful of a person even when you are taking them to jail. Many of the people I took to jail shook my hand at booking and thanked me for treating them “like a person.”

Here are ten tips that you can use to minimize, and hopefully avoid altogether, the generation of complaints.

1. Don’t use profanity. Trying to be cool and speak the street language of your suspect does not serve a purpose. They see you as trying to be something you’re not. It also doesn’t look so professional when replayed from your in-car video camera’s audio track in court.

2. Double-lock your handcuffs. The majority of use-of-force complaints are generated from handcuffs that became too tight on a transported arrestee’s wrists. Double-lock those cuffs right away. Be sure to document that step in your report’s narrative. I did so and I believe the double-lock documentation effectively stopped a “Notice of Intent” to sue that was lodged against me for wrist injuries on a suspect I arrested.

3. Be polite. Get used to saying “yes sir” and “no sir,” as well as “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am.” This is especially true when you are involved in a use of force incident. You could even hold the door for people. The nastier people get, the more polite you should get. Kill them with kindness. I did so. My reasoning was that as they became more difficult, I became even more polite so as to not give them a leg to stand up on against me. Being polite shows the public and co-workers respect. It’s not hard to do, doesn’t cost the agency a lot of money, and you can’t go wrong using your good manners. Even my four-year-old son has learned to be polite to that level.

4. Explain. When you stop a car or person that matches the description of a BOLO and it turns out not to be the sought after subject, explain what happened in a respectful manner. Don’t just end the encounter by cutting the person loose with no explanation. I have had people say that if it were only explained to them, they would not have been so upset. In some cases, it may even mean offering an apology.

5. No cowboy driving. Unless you have your emergency equipment activated, do not blow through red lights and stop signs. We’ve all heard the public’s groaning that “the cop is going to get his pizza before it get cold.” If you get a priority call and it gets cancelled right after going through the red light, quickly turn off the road and get out of sight of other motorists before you shut down your lights and siren. That should help avoid a negative perception. Avoid driving too fast and tailgating cars. The public does notice you in a patrol unit with a clearly marked identification number emblazoned on all sides.

6. Subtle officer safety. Within reason, don’t be so heavy-handed with your officer safety. Many times, you may be able to reach the same objective without antagonizing the person. For example, if I wanted to check a chair for weapons prior to letting someone sit down, I’d pick up the pillow and tell them I was fluffing it up for them as their tax dollars pay for me to make sure that they are comfortable. It achieved the goal while not provoking them to come back later with “The cop made me feel like a criminal.”

7. Return calls from citizens. If someone calls the dispatch center or station for you, be sure to return their call promptly. Often people told me that they were not upset so much with the news that was conveyed by the officer, but rather with the delay.

8. Give your name. When ending a call, be sure that the person knows your name. Better yet, give them your business card with the case number on it. If your agency only has generic cards, grab a bunch of these and put your name on them using a rubber stamp. When I was patrol, I used to give out my business card with the handwritten case number on it and even noted that action in my report narrative. Complaining people have told me that they felt that the officer was trying to cover something up since they didn’t offer, or wouldn’t answer with, their name. The lack of an officer’s name lead to a negative perception.

9. Show up for all legal proceedings. If you are subpoenaed for a criminal or administrative proceeding, be sure to show up before the start time. Many complaints are generated against officers who miss or are late for DMV driver’s license revocation hearings or other legal matters.

10. Maintain a professional appearance. Your motivation to self-inspect should not end the last day of the police academy. Take a good hard look at yourself before you report to work. Make sure that your personal hygiene and uniform is in order. If you need to start up an exercise program, do so. While appearance does not tend to be a primary complaint, it often comes up after the person lodges the initial concern.

Generally speaking, I have tried to live my personal message as inscribed on the back of my law enforcement trading cards (otherwise known as copcards) and encourage you do likewise: “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” I think that says it all.


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  • Officermatthewkilpatrick_max50

    mkilpatrick

    about 5 years ago

    12 Comments

    Ditto to everything said in this article. These are all easy steps and procedures that should be a part of every officer's repertoire. The law enforcement code of ethics applies until the day you retire, and whether you like it or not, you live your life as a cop behind a glass wall; constantly being watched and critiqued. If you live a professional, courteous, moral, and ethical life; you will have no problems defending your actions against a complaint. There is an excellent book title, "Path of the Warrior," and it outlines every principle listed in this article. Stay safe my brothers in arms.

  • Barney_and_donna_max50

    pocodan

    about 5 years ago

    80 Comments

    An Excellent article. You don't have to justify everything you do just be polite and professional. How many times have you "NOT" given a ticket because the person was polite and respectful and you reciprocated their actions. You can impose your will without lowering yourself.
    Believe me, my mother is very "old school" but always told me that you can get more with honey than you can with vinegar.

  • Dec012008standbest5_max50

    gentlemansgt

    about 5 years ago

    26 Comments

    Does anybody here still work the road in any capacity???? This type of advice in this day and age will get you killed. Ever listen to cop killers speak about when and who they decided to attack? The nice, polite, ever explaining officer that follows that type of advice above! In todays society, kindness will get you killed, not the other way around. I'm not advocating jack boot tactics by any means, but being professional doesn't mean carrying chapstick in your magazine pouches.

  • Scan0093_max50

    togbear

    about 5 years ago

    10 Comments

    Yes Sir, on the mark! Good job.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    stooge819

    about 5 years ago

    14 Comments

    Good Advice. I always tell my young officers this: If everybody loved us all the time and were happy to see us when we show up at a call, you know what they'd call us? THE FIRE DEPARTMENT!

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    johngalbraith

    about 5 years ago

    16 Comments

    I worked Internal Affairs for 5 terrible years. What you wrote here is true and would stop 60% of the complaints that I got every day. The Officers had no idea how manh complaints I got every day. Most of the time just explaining what was going on and being polite went a long way. Some officers just think that all people are dirtbags and it is beneith them to be civil. As an example I was supervising an art exhibit and told my people that some of the folks were a little weird and may cuss or be rude, but most would come to see you an hour or so later and say they were out of line. One of my officers said he didn't think he could do that. I told him to go home. After several minutes of garbage he said he guessed he could do it. I told him if he could fine, otherwise go home. I just did not need the problems with the people and the higher ups when they complained. I put him in the childrens area and he was fine. I just could not work with trouble that we would start and I would pay for. This is a good article.

  • Picture_027

    demsgt364

    about 5 years ago

    2 Comments

    I plan to provide copies of this to my staff members at muster on Sunday orning, thanks

  • Img_20140823_202523_max50

    chpprsinc

    over 5 years ago

    402 Comments

    well done, very helpfull. Thanks

  • November_2012__levi__khris__dan_uniform_059_max50

    rileylene

    over 5 years ago

    92 Comments

    I agree, Good training article

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Airam

    over 5 years ago

    80 Comments

    Great advice!

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    samsoul

    over 5 years ago

    4 Comments

    Great article! A tip from another article I read... For every one person you see,fifty will see you.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Anonymous

    over 5 years ago

    Excellent advise! Kill with kindness rocks!

  • Dsc00079_max50

    Negotiator358_CC13

    over 5 years ago

    112 Comments

    Good training article

  • P6191830_max50

    bluegang

    over 5 years ago

    124 Comments

    some good pointers

  • In_remembrance_of_oakland_pd_max50_max50_max50_max50_max50

    rhood

    over 5 years ago

    23592 Comments

    Good advice for all.

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