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Complaints against Elkhart police have decreased

The number of complaints filed against officers in the Elkhart Police Department has decreased in the last few years.
Posted on July 18, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on July 18, 2013 at 1:22 p.m.

ELKHART — Over the last two months, two officers from the Elkhart Police Department have been under investigation and face disciplinary action after allegations that they failed to follow procedure.

Cpl. Brian Chomer is accused of having failed to follow procedure when a woman saying she had been a victim of domestic violence came into the police station.

Patrolman Cory Newland allegedly failed to make an arrest in a domestic battery case and later lied to his supervisors.

Both cases are being reviewed by the Elkhart Board of Public Safety.

In general, however, the number of complaints filed against police officers has decreased in the last few years.

Lt. Mike Sigsbee, head of the office of internal affairs, said the change may be attributed to different reasons.

“Overall the number of complaints has dropped but the number of cases sustained has increased,” he said.

In a professional standards class as part of the Elkhart Police Department’s Citizens’ Academy, Sigsbee explained a complaint against an officer filed can be categorized as an inquiry if it’s a minor violation, or an allegation if the alleged violation is more serious.

In 2012, the police department investigated 21 allegations, of which 15 were sustained. The previous year police investigated 27 allegations, of which 14 were sustained. In 2005, the total number of allegations investigated was 45, of which 33 were sustained.

This year, the office of internal affairs has dealt with eight allegations so far.

Sigsbee said part of the reason the numbers are going down is that officers are better trained to talk and explain their procedure to people. With the knowledge of what an officer is and isn’t supposed to do, a person has the necessary information to file a complaint if he thinks the officer failed to follow procedure.

The department also has systems that help the office of internal affairs to look for patterns of violations, Sigsbee said. Once trends are found, the office can help set up training on specific areas as a review for officers.

Every now and then a serious allegation is investigated, but those come sporadically, Sigsbee said.

“I can’t tell you why the sudden waves of serious allegations go up, but sometimes they do,” he said.

DISCIPLINE

The police department has two types of discipline. Depending on the allegation or inquiry, if the complaint is sustained, the officer can receive a “positive or negative discipline,” Sigsbee said.

Positive discipline involves sending the accused officer to training sessions on the area where he failed to comply. Negative discipline can be anything from written reprimands to suspension.

All employees of the police department are expected to abide by a set of rules prepared by the office of internal affairs. Every police department has its own set of rules, which should comply with agencies like the Indiana Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission.

“We expect them to follow as best they can, with the understanding that there are times when they have to deviate from what’s specifically written,” he said. “But that’s situation-based because we deal with society in infinite number of ways.”

Sigsbee said he sees the general orders more as a suggestion of a way to behave than as rules.

“We can give them guidance and hope they make the right decision,” he said. “The way I see it, my job is more about training than it is about discipline.”




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