Why DC saw a historic spike in complaints against officers

WASHINGTON — Complaints against the D.C. police have spiked in the last year, but both the police chief and the department which tracks complaints believe it has little to do with officer behavior.

In its annual report, the Office of Police Complaints finds complaints against officers jumped 77 percent from last year — from 438 cases investigated in fiscal year 2016 to 773 cases in fiscal year 2017. That’s the most complaints on the department in the last decade, said the office’s director Michael Tobin.

“It does sound like a big number, and oftentimes when OPC has put out these type of statistics before, we have to go back and dig a bit deeper,” D.C. police Chief Peter Newsham told WTOP.

Part of the reason for the increase is due to the 2016 passage of the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Amendment Act, otherwise known as the NEAR Act, requiring the department to transfer certain cases to investigators in Police Complaints.

Tobin agreed the jump in complaints has many reasons, saying it’s due in part to the fact that it’s easier for residents to file a complaint online, as well as the fact that the D.C. Council extended the time period to file a complaint and that each patrol officer is now wearing a body camera.

“People may feel more comfortable that their complaint will be investigated because we have body-worn camera footage on at least two-thirds of them now,” Tobin said.

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