Rangely PD taking steps to improve complaint process

RANGELY | The Rangely Police Department is currently reviewing the process citizens must undertake when filing a complaint against either an officer or the department.

Town Manager Peter Brixius said there was a mutual feeling from the community and the town that they needed to take a look at the complaint process and make some changes. “It shows good faith,” he said. “The town wants to ensure that citizens who have a complaint or concern are heard.”

While still in the preliminary stages, Brixius said updates will include the involvement of other departments once a complaint has been filed, along with adding more verification and validity to the process, “while keeping the process confidential.”

Police Chief Vince Wilczek said that they are working on getting the complaint process online in an attempt to be more user-friendly.

The current policy is titled Complaints of Profiling, which makes it unclear whether the process is applicable to all complaints or just those dealing with profiling. The policy states that anyone wishing to file a complaint must be provided the proper forms. It also outlines the required department follow up, stating, “All such complaints shall be reviewed, the complaint acknowledged to the complainant in writing. The complainant shall be informed of the results of the department’s review within a reasonable period of time. The report and the reviewer’s conclusion shall be filed with the Chief of Police and shall contain findings and any suggestions for disciplinary action, changes in policy, training, tactics, or that said complaint was unfounded.” Wilczek acknowledged that the chief is supposed to reach out to complainants to follow up on their concerns.

The complaint form issued to those wishing to file is attached to a cover letter from Chief Wilczek which also states that complainants will be contacted for follow up by someone from the department. It also warns against making false complaints saying, “Although if a complaint is taken and it is found to be grossly false or deliberately misleading about an officer incident [sic]. Criminal charges pursuant to 18-8-111(b)(c), False Reporting to Authorities will be files [sic]. This in no means meant to discourage a citizen or guest from making a complaint. It is meant to fore warn [sic] those that would deliberately attempt to make a false report against an employee of the Rangely Police Department, Town of Rangely.” Wilczek said that language would not be removed from any future forms.

The decision to review the complaint filing process follows a packed January meeting where the public was invited to come and share their concerns about police practices. A portion of the conversation centered around current department practices with complaints with several attendees claiming they’d received no follow-up.

At a meeting this week Chief Wilczek said complaints in the future will be categorized. Level I complaints are credible and require an internal investigation. They are typically issues like sexual harassment and domestic abuse. Level II complaints are credible and do not require an internal investigation. Level III complaints are often inquiries about police actions and are typically handled quickly.

Wilczek said the department received three complaints in the last week, all Level III.

In addition to changing the way citizens file police department complaints, the department is also partnering with the Ninth Judicial District Office to initiate a “Citizens Academy” outreach program. The program will offer orientation classes focused on topics such as officer and individual rights, use of force and patrol procedures, as well as the opportunity to participate in an officer ride-along. The program, which Brixius said has been used by other communities in the state, will be open to individuals 18 years old and older who are able to successfully complete a background screening. Brixius said that the development of the program reflects an effort by the town to “bring officers together with citizens.”

The Academy will meet once weekly for six weeks beginning March 1 at 7 p.m., with a graduation program occurring at the April 10 town council meeting. Applications to participate can be found online and at the police department.