Council may consider policy requiring police notification of complaints

BURTON — With ongoing unrest across the country revolving around the police and complaints about excessive force, city officials have taken steps to add some safeguards to the city’s police department.

Mayor Duane Haskins said he’ll be implementing two policies with the Burton Police Department which will require any officers or city employees who witness police using excessive force to intervene and/or notify their immediate supervisor.

“It is their duty to intervene and take all appropriate actions if another individual is using force in violation of policy,” said Haskins. “It is their duty to report excessive force used by other employees – on or off duty.”

Haskins said any employee witnessing such a violation of policy is to report immediately to their supervisor another supervisor and the incident will be investigated

“We’ll make sure we are moving in the right direction,” said Haskins. “In a fashion that keeps our residents safe and any other person” who comes in contact with Burton police.

City Council President Steve Heffner said he approached City Attorney Amanda Doyle last week and asked her to write a policy he wants the council to consider.

The policy would call for Police Chief Brian Ross to notify the council any time there is a complaint made against a police officer.

Heffner said he asked for the policy after he was questioned by residents about the number of complaints against Burton police officers and couldn’t answer the question.

So, he asked Doyle to write a policy that was simple and required the chief to forward any complaint against Burton police officers to the city council on a monthly basis.

“If we see something, we can say something, but we can’t interfere,” said Heffner. “I just want to know. It’s just something to keep us informed so we can do our due diligence.”

Councilman Dennis O’Keefe said he doesn’t have a problem with the policy, but he doesn’t see the benefit in viewing “raw complaints.”

“If we get raw complaints, it means more questions than answers,” he said. “It doesn’t mean anything to me until investigated.”

Heffner said it would give the council a chance to see if there are any patterns that arise with the same officer, so they are aware of potential problems. Heffner added the council has no authority to do anything with the complaint, but it would be a way of keeping the members in the loop.

Councilman Vaughn Smith said he also didn’t want to have a situation where he or other council members were taken by surprise with unexpected questions.

“The more information we have, the less apt these spur of the moment things will happen. I just don’t want to be blindsided,” said Smith. “We’d be better informed to make those decisions. I think it’s good, I support this.”

Councilman Danny Wells said he thinks the council should leave the policy for the legislative committee to look at it and bring it back to city council.

“It’s very vague, to say the least,” said Wells. “I’m not ready to vote on this tonight.”

Vice President Greg Fenner said ultimately the burden falls on the council and though he doesn’t want to micromanage the police department, and the council doesn’t need to be aware of every little problem, he agreed with Wells that the policy needed to go through the legislative committee.

Heffner said because the council has no authority to do anything with police department, the policy would be only for information, so council is not blindsided by anything.

“We need to be able to answer those questions in this day and age,” he said. “The more information we have, the more tools we have to work with. I just want to throw this out there and let you think about it.”

No action was taken on the proposed policy.