Norfolk police chief promises more transparency in internal affairs department

NORFOLK, Va. - Make a complaint against a Norfolk police officer, and according to their internal affairs department, you will likely never find out if the officer was ever punished.

But the Chief of the Norfolk Police Department, Michael Goldsmith, say he wants to make the internal affairs department more transparent by telling residents at least one new piece of info: whether or not their complaint was substantiated.

According to the police department, previous letters to complainants only said 'an investigation was conducted, and the appropriate action was taken.'

In addition to that info, a new letter that is currently being drafted, will tell residents whether their complaint was founded or unfounded.

A News 3 investigation looked at some internal affairs documents obtained through various sources. We found numerous examples of paperwork you would never see if you filed a complaint against an officer.

Some of the documents that is almost impossible for residents to obtain if they file a complaint against a police officer.

Some of the documents that is almost impossible for residents to obtain if they file a complaint against a police officer.

Citizens are not usually allowed to access paperwork which includes information like a summary of the incident and investigation, and the disciplinary action, if any, taken against the officer.

According to NFP, disciplinary actions can include written reprimands, suspensions, demotions or dismissals.

Additionally, after an investigation, the department can classify a complaint one of four ways: unfounded, exonerated, unsubstantiated or substantiated.

While retired police officer Michael McKenna, a trustee for the Norfolk Police Union, thinks Goldsmith’s move is a step in the right direction, he does not think the move is enough to open the doors of transparency.

Retired police officer Michael McKenna talk to News 3's Merris Badcock about department transparency.

Retired police officer Michael McKenna talk to News 3's Merris Badcock about department transparency.

“That doesn`t solve the question,” McKenna told News 3. “The question is, if I make an official complaint...they should come back and tell me what the outcome was. If it was founded or unfounded, what does that even mean?

McKenna believes the public should be allowed access to details of the investigation, which help establish why a department came to their ultimate conclusion.

According to McKenna, the public is not the only one facing challenges when it comes to accessing internal affairs paperwork. He says police officers cannot even access those files, unless they file a civil lawsuit to get them.

“The problem is…they have so many complaints, that they do not get around to handling them like they should,” McKenna said.

Of the 159 citizen complaints filed against the NPD in 2014, only 23 of them were deems ‘substantiated’.

In 2015, 15 complaints out of 146 were classified as substantiate, but that number did not include an additional eight complaints that were under review or awaiting a judgment.

It is unclear when the department hopes to implement the promise, but News 3 can confirm a new letter to complainants has already been drafted.

See the photo below for the types of complaints made against the department in 2014 and 2015.

npd-complaints-2015