LPD received nearly 60 citizen complaints in 2017, most unfounded

Published 9:16 pm Friday, March 2, 2018

The LaGrange Police Department received 59 citizen complaints in 2017, with 17 percent of those resulting in a finding against an employee, according to the department’s annual public safety report released in February.

Of those 59 complaints, officers were found to be in improper conduct 10 times and misconduct once. The misconduct discovery occurred when the department was looking into a complaint, but found an unrelated policy violation during the investigation, according to the safety report.

LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar said the department has looked at the complaints, but has not found any particular trends or patterns that show a department-wide issue. Instead, what they find overall is that most complaints are due to poor communication.

“Mostly what we see are officers who maybe are abrupt, or many of our complaints are a result of ineffective communication in that particular instance,” Dekmar said.

Dekmar said if there is a problem with the way police citizen encounters happen, he wants it to be dealt with immediately. That way, if there is an issue, it doesn’t escalate and sets the standards for other officers.

“If you address things early on — say it’s a rudeness issue — and you deal with it effectively, it doesn’t become an improper use of force issue,” Dekmar said. “Because the standard of the agency is explained and amplified in such a way that the officer understands through that remediation or that counselling, or in some cases discipline, that would not be tolerated.”

A complaint can be made at the LaGrange Police Department by talking to a superior officer. A complaint form is also available, allowing for a full written narrative on what allegedly took place.

When reviewing citizen complaints, the department will re-watch recordings from the encounter. Dekmar said the department has had mandatory recordings for the last 12 to 15 years.

“Before body cams, we had car cams, but they also had an audio pack, so even though it’s not on the camera, you have the audio,” Dekmar said. “Then, of course, we jumped on body cams early, so we’ve had them probably six years or more. That also helps us very quickly identify if there’s an issue that a citizen-police encounter occurred.”

Often times, citizens may think they were treated rudely when they were caught in the moment. After they calm down and see the recording, they’re more understanding, according to Dekmar.

“So, that’s why we have a 17 percent rate of finding against the officers,” he said. “Most of the time, the officer’s behavior was appropriate, but not all the time.”

Citizens can also fill out surveys with how satisfied they were during their interaction with officers. According to a City of LaGrange press release, 224 citizen survey cards were returned during the year 2017. About 97 percent of citizens said they were satisfied or very satisfied to the question “Are you satisfied with the overall performance of the LaGrange Police Department?”

About 98 percent said they were very satisfied or satisfied to the answer “Are you satisfied with the officers’ attitudes and behavior,” according to the press release.