In the event of a government shutdown, it’s heartening to know that District neighborhoods will remain safe.The Metropolitan Police Department won’t be sending any of its 3,875 sworn officers home, and 223 operators will be on hand to answer 911 calls. But if summoning a police officer will remain easy, complaining about one will get harder.
That’s because the Office of Police Complaints will be closed. If any complaints come up regarding MPD officers, citizens will have to log those complaints with MPD’s internal affairs officers.
A civilian office intended to allow complaints to be investigated by workers who aren’t MPD employees, the office has been open since 2001. In 2010, it received 256 complaints about police language and conduct, 394 complaints of harassment, and 158 complaints of excessive force.
OPC Executive Director Philip Eure was surprised when he learned that he might not be leaving for work Monday morning: “I’m not essential, apparently, according to the government, and neither are my employees.”
Eure says he’s scheduled a meeting with staff about what may happen in the coming days. Besides the fact that OPC’s 12 investigators won’t be hitting the streets, sidelining the office may get in the way of smart government—the office spends a lot of time figuring out what happened in cases where citizens complain. “We take a 30,000 foot view of complaints and suggest policy changes,” says Eure.
It’s not like the majority of D.C. cops will ever have to worry about citizens leveling accusations at them. But an office not run by police, where citizens can file complaints without worrying about who’s taking them, would seem to be an important part of public safety. OPC isn’t the only watchdog agency that will go dark during a shutdown: The Office of Human and Rights, which looks into civil rights violations, and the Office of the Inspector General, which investigates government corruption, will also close.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery