The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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June 8, 2012

Joplin police cite rise in internal complaints

Use of force also up compared to last year

Of 19 complaints submitted to the Internal Affairs Division of the Joplin Police Department in the first quarter of this year — about twice as many as in the same period a year ago — only three originated with the public.

Sixteen of the complaints were generated internally, according to a quarterly internal affairs report released this week. Police Chief Lane Roberts views that as a healthy ratio.

“We find if we police ourselves aggressively, we get fewer complaints externally,” Roberts said.

The report states that 13 of the complaints were against sworn officers, while six involved nonsworn employees of the department.

Fifteen of the complaints were sustained following Internal Affairs investigations. Officers or nonsworn employees were exonerated in two cases involving lost equipment and an alleged violation of the law. One complaint involving a purported violation of sick leave was withdrawn and another was determined to be unfounded.

Two alleged violations of law that were sustained through investigations led to the termination of one officer or nonsworn employee, and the resignation of another. A sustained case involving the falsifying of documents also led to a resignation, according to the report.

Roberts would not identify any of the employees involved. But he said the case entailing the falsification of documents did not involve police reports, he said.

“We’re not talking about anything regarding enforcement activities,” Roberts said of that particular complaint.

He also would not discuss the two sustained violations of law that led to a dismissal and a resignation other than to say that they did not entail any alleged police corruption.

Other sustained complaints included a firearm safety violation that resulted in a written reprimand, two violations of departmental policies regarding outside employment and property or equipment, both of which led to oral reprimands, and an instance of being missing or late for duty, which drew a written reprimand.

Handled separately from the 19 internal affairs complaints were four accidents involving city vehicles also cited in the report. With two of those accidents, written reprimands were issued. In the other two, counseling was ordered.

The department also released a report on uses of force in the first quarter of the year, showing an increase in the number of incidents involving one or more uses of force compared with a year ago and an increase in the use of Tasers.

While 2,022 arrests made the first quarter of this year represented virtually no increase from the 2,019 made the first three months of 2011, the department’s use of force rate rose from once every 43.89 arrests a year ago to once every 31.59 arrests this year. Those numbers convert to a use of force rate of 3.17 percent this year, compared with 2.2 percent last year.

There were 64 incidents involving one or more uses of force in this year’s first quarter. There were 46 a year ago. Tasers were deployed just eight times in the first quarter of last year but 21 times in the first quarter of 2012.

The police chief finds neither increase alarming. He said the department’s use of force remains “fairly minimal” considering the number of calls for service.

Roberts pointed out that along with the jump in use of Tasers, the report also notes a corresponding decrease in the number of times officers physically took someone to the ground by “hands-on” means, which is more likely to cause injury to the detainee or the officer.

“While the Taser is extremely uncomfortable, it does not leave a permanent injury,” he said.

Service calls drop

The number of calls for service received by the Joplin Police Department in the first quarter of this year fell to 19,439 from 19,987 a year ago. The number of vehicle stops conducted by officers also dropped from 7,050 to 6,659.

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