FWPD misconduct penalties toughened

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Fort Wayne police officers who break the department’s code of conduct will now face tougher punishments. The Board of Public Safety approved the policy changes at its meeting Thursday.

Chief Garry Hamilton told NewsChannel 15 on Friday that recent national headlines of officers getting fired for racial comments are partly what led him to take a closer look at Fort Wayne’s policies.

“After looking at our policy, I found it was lacking,” Hamilton said. “Ours were behind the curve a little bit and I decided to step up our game to make our work environment a healthy environment to work in and also build up trust with the community.”

The improper conduct clause used to be one section and all “improper conduct” would fall under it. It was also the lowest class of offense.

This is how the old clause read:

IMPROPER CONDUCT – CLASS F
Officers shall not exhibit the following conduct while on duty or when otherwise identifiable as a police officer. 
a.   Discourteous treatment of a citizen or fellow police officer.
b.   Any other act or conduct that is unethical or tends to demean, debase, ridicule, disgrace or degrade the officer or the department or otherwise creates disrespect for law and order.

Now, that section has been expanded to be three sections, which better define violations and have varying degrees of punishments.

A violation like being rude is still the lowest level and will earn the officer a letter of reprimand. Now unethical or demeaning conduct is the third highest level resulting in a five-day suspension. And any written communications or acts that are hostile toward someone’s race, religion, sexual orientation or personal qualities are now the second highest offense and will land the officer in front of the Public Safety Board to determine suspension.

This is the list of punishments for FWPD officers based upon the level of offense.
This is the list of punishments for FWPD officers based upon the level of offense.

This is how the new clause reads:

IMPROPER CONDUCT – CLASS F
Officers shall not exhibit the following conduct while on duty or when otherwise identifiable as a police officer:
a.   Discourteous treatment of a citizen or fellow police officer.

IMPROPER CONDUCT – CLASS B
a.   Any act or written communication that is hostile toward any individual regarding race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, mental capacity, physical handicap or age.

IMPROPER CONDUCT – CLASS C
a.   Any other act or conduct that is unethical or tends to demean, debase, ridicule, disgrace or degrade the officer, a citizen or the department or otherwise creates disrespect for law and order. 

(See the picture on the right for the punishments associated with each class of violation.)

When a complaint is filed against an officer, there’s a thorough investigation. That can involve pulling dash camera video and doing interviews with the officer, person complaining and anyone else involved. That process can take several months.

“We will make sure everything is covered to make sure the officer gets a fair shake and the citizen gets a fair shake as well,” Hamilton said.

The chief added that the department also reviews every police report and use of force form the officers file.

“A lot of people think we don’t investigate our officers, but we take a look at it to see if there’s a pattern,” he said.

If a citizen files a complaint and the officers gets reprimanded, that person will get a letter from the department explaining the punishment. Any officer suspensions are also reported at the Board of Public Safety’s monthly meeting, which is open to the public.

The department’s harassment policy didn’t change in wording, but violations became a Class B, up from a Class C before.

That section reads:

HARASSMENT- CLASS B
All Fort Wayne Police Department employees shall behave in a manner to maintain a work force free of harassment, discrimination and intimidation in accordance with applicable State and Federal laws and the FWPD Sexual Harassment Policy.

Officers can also report misconduct to Hamilton and he can file a complaint.

“If I see something that concerns me, I can ask internal affairs to start an investigation,” he said. “I expect an officer who has an issue, like what we tell citizens, ‘see something, say something.’ That’s part of our policy. If you see something, tell internal affairs or the chief staff what you have concerns about.”

Hamilton said the improper conduct clauses also apply when officers are off duty.

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