9OYS Investigates: Is the reorganization of TPD's Internal Affairs a good thing?
Reporter: Claire Doan
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – The job of Tucson Police is to protect the public, but when they do something wrong, who protects you?
The recent memo that Chief Roberto Villaseñor sent City Manager Mike Letcher outlines a personnel shift for the Office of Internal Affairs, the TPD division tasked with investigating complaints of officer misconduct made by other officers or by Tucson residents. In the memo, Villaseñor outlined the department reorganization set to start in December, including the changes affecting Internal Affairs.
"Not having detectives in there to do follow-up on allegations of complaints is critical, and it's going to create a gap in trust between the community and the police department," said retired TPD captain Rich Harper, who feared the changes will hinder the department's ability to check on its own officers.
However, Captain Mike Gillooly told KGUN9 News Wednesday that the unit will maintain the same size: Five detectives in that division will transition to the Property Crimes Division and the Crimes Against Persons Division, and five sergeants will fill the vacancies left by the detectives.
9 On Your Side asked whether the changes to Internal Affairs will affect its ability to handle complaints by the public, and Gillooly responded that not only will transition be seamless, but the changes will be beneficial for Tucsonans.
"Rather than having detectives investigate their peers per se, we will have supervisors investigating the vast majority of complaints that come into the police department," Gillooly said. "We feel our superiors are more in-tuned with investigating those complaints because that deal with that on a daily basis anyway, just as superiors within their previous assignments."
Liana Perez, the city's independent police auditor, agreed that there are benefits to superiors conducting the investigations.
"I don't see any downsides. Obviously, time will tell," Perez said. "For the most part, they are doing a really good job. But we do find little things that could make an investigation better."
According to Tucson Police, the numbers of complaints that go through the Internal Affairs division are 772 for 2008; 853 for 2009; and 633 for 2010, to date.
Gillooly said the hundreds of complaints are surprisingly low considering the more than one million "contacts" that TPD officers made with the community on an everyday basis.
"The police department has a very small percentage of complaints compared with the number of contacts we have with citizens and we're proud of that," Gillooly said.
While Perez acknowledged that TPD is doing a good job with its investigations, she said that numbers of complaints about officer misconduct don't necessarily give a full picture of what is happening.
"I don't think there's any truth in telling that a low number of complaints necessarily means that everything is perfect, because there's always that segment of the community that either wont' file a complaint or doesn't know where to go with that complaint."