The clock is now ticking for complaints of police misconduct.
Residents will have only 45 days to report any complaints that they want to have reviewed by the Civilian Police Review Board, the City Council decided Monday.
The Police Department must then act on the complaint within 30 days. The Civilian Police Review Board will review the complaint in the following 30 days.
Councilman Gary McCarthy said the new deadlines would vastly improve the effectiveness of the entire process. In the past, it has taken more than a year to resolve some complaints, and both police and review board members say witnesses are far more difficult to find after such a period of time.
Without witnesses, many complaints can not be substantiated, review board members say.
Chief Mark Chaires said his officers can meet the new 30-day deadline. But he emphasized that his department will still accept complaints after the 45-day window. Such complaints may not be reviewed by the Civilian Police Review Board, but Chaires said he would still take them seriously.
“I don’t want to do anything that looks like the Police Department is trying to suppress citizen complaints,” he said at a committee meeting on the issue last week.
However, complaints filed well after the incident are usually untrue or exaggerated, he said.
In other action, the council announced that it will reveal the latest design for Erie Boulevard next Tuesday at 7 p.m. The public meeting will be held at College Park Hall, the Union College dormitory on Nott Street.
The council also revisited Chaires’ request for nine additional officers, agreeing unanimously to apply for a federal grant. The grant, if awarded, would pay for the officers for three years. In the fourth year, the city would be required to pay the full cost, estimated to be $1 million.
Council members told Chaires last week that they couldn’t afford the fourth-year payment, but agreed to apply while analyzing the possibility of saving up for that expense.
On Monday, some residents urged the council to not even apply for the grant.
“If we get the grant, probably we’re going to say, ‘Geez, we have the money …, ’ ” Vince Riggi said. “These are tough, tough times. With these grants, we have to pick up the tabs. We’re spending money like drunken sailors.”
But McCarthy argued that the grant could save residents thousands of dollars.
“If you take just burglaries, we’re running 900 burglaries a year, sometimes over 1,000,” he said. “The average burglary cost is over $1,600 by the time you replace the door, the window, any stolen items. That’s a cost homeowners are paying now.”
He estimated that total burglary costs per year are $1.5 million citywide.
“If we could reduce burglaries by a half or a quarter, it would more than pay for itself,” he said, referring to the $1 million cost of the additional officers.
Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard agreed. She said the city’s tax base would grow enough over the next three years to cover the additional cost, and added that she thinks the additional officers could substantially reduce response times. McCarthy wants a two-minute response to all serious calls.
The Rev. Phillip Grigsby spoke in favor of the grant as well, calling the cost “reasonable.”
But Mayor Brian U. Stratton said the grant would likely force the council to raise taxes. He noted that the council cut the budget by $1 million to avoid a tax hike this year.
“You certainly aren’t inclined, at least most of you, to wanting tax hikes,” he said. “I support the opportunity to keep the window open [by applying for the grant]. If, after much more careful and thorough financial analysis, the analysis is we can do it, we should have the opportunity.”