Why file a complaint?
The employees of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department have important responsibilities and duties as public servants and must always strive to preserve the public's trust in us. One of the most important means by which we ensure that our employees serve in this way is through our complaint resolution process. Citizens who are dissatisfied with service they receive from any of our employees can make a complaint in several ways, and may identify themselves or complain anonymously.
Complaints may be made in person, telephoned in, mailed, or emailed to us via this website. By resolving or investigating complaints, the department can identify and correct improper or inappropriate employee behavior, and learn of patterns or trends in employee behavior or tactics that may need modification through training, policy development, supervision or improved equipment or systems. Often through this process, a complainant can be educated about department procedure, policy or tactics.
Anonymous complaints are also accepted, although this sometimes reduces our ability to gather all relevant facts upon which to make decisions about any given employee's behavior.
What complaints are accepted?
The department would like to resolve all complaints about employees or quality of service. While complaints take a variety of forms, not all require a formal supervisory investigation. There are times when, for example, communication between the employee and citizen is not productive or effective, but also is not discourteous. In such cases, a supervisor may simply work with the citizen and employee to resolve the situation. However, in all cases where an allegation of misconduct, if proven true, would constitute a violation of the department's conduct rules, a thorough supervisory investigation is completed and a disposition determined by the employee's commanding supervisors, called a "chain of command."
Who can take my complaint?
All employees of the police department have the responsibility for ensuring a complaint is properly received. A complaint may be filed at any time. In most cases, non-supervisory personnel refer the complainant to a supervisor or the Watch Commander. They have experience in assessing what alleged behavior may be misconduct and are responsible to ensure an investigation is initiated.
How does the process work?
The process begins by your reporting your concerns. There are several pieces of information that you should have to help us act on your complaint, including the date and time of event, location, involved employee names or description, incident complaint number (if applicable), and/or a CMPD vehicle number.
The complaint process works like this:
Step 1: A complaint is filed .
You may file your complaint in several ways:
By telephone: (704) 336-2336 or (704) 336-2183
Monday through Friday 8:00am – 5:00pm or by calling any Division office and requesting to speak to a supervisor. On evenings, weekends, and holidays, you may also contact the Watch Commander at (704) 336-2141.
By US Mail:
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department-Internal Affairs
601 E. Trade Street
Charlotte, N.C. 28202
In person: At 601 E. Trade Street, at any division office, or by requesting to see and speak with an employee's supervisor at the time the event.
Online: Report Police Employee Misconduct
Step Two: The complaint is investigated .
1. When a complaint is received by a supervisor or Internal Affairs staff, it is recorded for investigation. The complaint receives a tracking number assigned by Internal Affairs and is routed, consistent with policy, to the appropriate unit supervisor for investigation. Considerations for routing include:
A. If the alleged misconduct is of serious consequence to the employee, department or community confidence in police, Internal Affairs investigates.
B. If the alleged misconduct is of moderate or minor consequence to the employee, department or community confidence in police, a supervisor in the employee's area of assignment will investigate the complaint.
C. On occasion, Internal Affairs is requested by a commander in an employee's chain of command to investigate an allegation of misconduct that would normally be investigated by a supervisor assigned to that employee's unit. Investigative transfers of this type are discussed and reassigned by mutual agreement.
2. The appropriate supervisor initiates the investigation, which consists of the following components:
A. Completing an interview and obtaining a statement from the complaining party;
B. Completing an interview and obtaining a statement from any relevant witnesses;
C. Obtaining any physical, documentary or photographic evidence;
D. Obtaining any miscellaneous reports or materials relating to the complaint and actions of the employee;
E. Reviewing all statements and evidence prior to interviewing the accused employee, in order to prepare for that interview;
F. Completing an interview of the accused employee; and,
G. Completing a summary of the evidence, the investigation process and synopsis of events surrounding the allegation of misconduct.
When an employee is alleged to have violated a criminal law, two parallel investigations occur: the internal investigation described above and an independent criminal investigation. The internal investigation is handled in the same way, but the criminal investigation is handled by criminal detectives. Their investigation is reviewed by a prosecutor in the District Attorney's Office. The District Attorney determines whether to prosecute the employee or direct additional follow-up investigation to resolve any issues before a decision on prosecution can be made.
Step Three: A decision is made .
Once the investigation is complete, a finding is made by the accused employee's chain of command, which consists of three levels of the employee's supervisors.
Each complaint will receive one of four possible findings:
1. Sustained. The investigation disclosed sufficient evidence to prove the allegations made in the complaint.
2. Not Sustained. The investigation failed to disclose sufficient evidence to prove the allegations made in the complaint.
3. Exonerated. The acts which provided the basis for the complaint or allegation occurred; however, the investigation revealed they were justified, lawful, and proper.
4. Unfounded. The investigation conclusively proved that the act or acts alleged did not occur.
The department adjudicates all allegations of misconduct in one of the following manners:
Cases Investigated by Internal Affairs*
1. Chain of command board hearing . When an investigation reveals a fair probability that an employee engaged in misconduct, Internal Affairs drafts a document that specifies the alleged conduct violations and summarizes the events that support the allegation. Internal Affairs also coordinates a board hearing for that employee. The members of that board include the accused employee's chain of command, a member of the City of Charlotte Community Relations Committee and a peer, if requested by the accused. The members of that board question and hear from the accused and any police employee witnesses necessary to fully understand all facts necessary to make a finding.
2. Case Review . When the investigation reveals a less than fair probability the alleged misconduct is sustainable, an accused officer's captain and major or civilian equivalents meet with Internal Affairs staff to review the facts of the case. The employee's commanders will assign a finding of Not Sustained, Exonerated, or Unfounded, or they may recommend a full IA or division-level chain of command hearing on the case.
* Note: Internal Affairs does not participate in determination of the finding or in imposing any discipline in sustained cases.
Cases Investigated by an Employee's Unit Supervisor
1. The accused employee waives a hearing . The employee's chain of command reviews the entire case investigation and renders a finding.
2. The accused employee requests a hearing . The employee's chain of command convenes a division-level board hearing. They render a finding after questioning and hearing from the employee and any police employee witnesses.
3. Mandated Hearing . The employee's chain of command directs a hearing be held to adjudicate the case.
What can I expect when speaking with an Internal Affairs supervisor or other investigating supervisor?
As defined in the mission of the Internal Affairs Bureau, the investigating supervisors are essential to preserving the public's trust and confidence by conducting thorough and impartial investigations of alleged employee misconduct. Investigating supervisors are expected to maintain respectful dialogue, objectivity, yet ask detailed and probing questions in order to fully understand the true facts surrounding the event in question
All Internal Affairs supervisors and some other supervisors make every effort to record the statements of all parties involved and interviewed. The value in this process is that these recordings are transcribed and become part of the record that an employee's supervisors and commanders review before deciding a case disposition.
Disciplinary action is administered only in those cases where an allegation of misconduct is sustained. After sustaining an allegation, the members of the employee's Chain of Command weighs the department's discipline philosophy as it relates to that employee and event, with the emphasis being to administer fair and consistent discipline. The components of the discipline philosophy include:
Consideration of Discipline
1. Employee Motivation
Was the employee operating in the public interest? An employee who violates a policy in an effort to accomplish a legitimate police purpose that demonstrates an understanding of the broader public interest inherent in the situation will be given more positive consideration in the determination of consequences than one who was motivated by personal interest.
2. The Degree Of Harm
Harm can be measured in a variety of ways. It can be measured in terms of the monetary cost to the department and community. It can be measured in terms of the personal injury the error causes or it can be measured by the impact of the error on public confidence.
3. Employee Experience
A relatively new employee (or a more experienced employee in an unfamiliar assignment) will be given greater consideration when judgmental errors are made. In the same vein, employees who make judgmental errors that would not be expected of one who has a significant amount of experience may expect to receive more serious sanctions.
4. Intentional/Unintentional Errors
Generally, intentional errors will be treated more serious and carry greater consequences.
5. Employee's Past Record
To the extent allowed by law and policy an employee's past record will be taken into consideration in determining the consequences of a failure to meet the department's expectations.
The range of disciplinary actions available includes:
1. Supervisory Counseling;
2. Written Reprimand;
a. Active suspension without pay (employee does not report to work)
b. Suspended suspension ( suspension time is held in abeyance for one year pending no further violations which, if sustained, would activate the suspended suspension); or,
4. Recommendation for Termination of Employment.
None of the findings or disciplinary actions prevents an employee's chain of command from requiring that an employee seek additional training, address performance concerns through the performance appraisal process, or seek assistance through the Employee Assistance Program. Such actions are not disciplinary in nature. These steps are designed to help employees handle their job responsibilities more effectively.
Will I be notified of the outcome of my complaint?
Citizens filing complaints of misconduct against police employees will be notified that a case was investigated and appropriate action taken by the Department. However, the results of an investigation, including the findings and any related discipline are not provided to the citizen except in very limited circumstances. North Carolina law restricts the release of personnel information relating to performance, promotions, demotions, transfers, suspensions and other disciplinary actions. Because of this law, an investigation into police misconduct is confidential and can be released only under the following circumstances:
1. Supervisor Request. A request for inspection by a person having supervisory authority over an employee;
2. Court Order. The Department shall release information pursuant to and consistent with a court order.
3. City Manager Direction. The City Manager, with concurrence of the City Council, may release specific personnel information about an employee.
4. Employee consent. The employee may elect to waive confidentiality of an internal investigation that pertains only to him or her, including the findings and any discipline associated with the investigation.
State law does provide for the release of findings only in the following types of citizen filed complaints, as citizens have the right to appeal these case findings to the Citizen's Review Board. Those complaint types include:
1. Unbecoming Conduct;
2. Excessive Use of Force;
3. Arrest, Search and Seizure;
4. Discharge of Firearms Involving Personal Injury or Death.
Can I challenge the decision?
If your category of complaint can be appealed by you under North Carolina law (see the below categories), the letter notifying you of the findings of the investigation will also include information informing you of how to file an appeal with the Citizens Review Board (CRB), should you desire to do so.
The categories of complaints that can be appealed are those that have the most serious consequences for public confidence in the CMPD. These categories of complaints include:
1. Unbecoming Conduct;
2. Excessive Use of Force;
3. Arrest, Search and Seizure;
4. Discharge of Firearms Involving Personal Injury or Death.
Other categories of complaints, such as neglect of duty or courtesy can not be appealed.
The Citizens Review Board appeal process works like this:
1. The CRB reviews a complainant's appeal by scheduling a hearing to learn the facts of the case from both the complainant and the police department;
2. If the CRB feels that sufficient evidence exists to believe that the Chief of Police abused his discretion in the findings, the CRB schedules a more extensive hearing;
3. If, after that hearing is concluded, the CRB finds that the Chief abused his authority in making the decision, they can make a recommendation to the City Manager, who in turn would discuss it with the Chief and make a final decision;
4. If at any stage the CRB fails to find that the Chief abused his authority through the findings, the appeal process ends;
5. If the CRB process results in a change in the findings or discipline for the officer that results in suspension or termination, that officer may appeal the ruling to the Civil Service Board, which retains final authority on all investigation findings and discipline for officers.
How Long Does The Investigation Process Take?
Over the past few years, the Department has worked to improve its timeliness in completing internal investigations of alleged employee misconduct. The timeframe of 45 days has recently been established as a target timeframe, from initial reception of a complaint to adjudication and employee notification , to ensure that we are responsive to the public and our employees. To be sure, police employees and complaining citizens should share the piece of mind that we will act swiftly to investigate and conclude all allegations of misconduct.
Some investigations of alleged misconduct are more complex and may take longer than the prescribed 45 days to complete. These cases should be the exception rather than the rule, but may occur due to circumstances that prevent the completion of the investigation, e.g., location of witnesses, evidence, or employees being on a leave of absence or military leave, etc. In such cases, the investigating supervisor or commanding officers should contact the complainant to provide a status update on case completion.
What determines whether Internal Affairs or the employee's immediate supervisor investigates my complaint?
Policy determines the investigating supervisor. The department has 41 different multi-part rules of conduct for employees. Policy directs whether Internal Affairs or the employee's unit supervisors investigate.
While all allegations of misconduct are considered important to the department, Internal Affairs investigates allegations of misconduct that generally carry more serious consequences for the employee, the department, or community confidence in the police, while immediate supervisors investigate those with less serious consequences. Therefore, Internal Affairs would investigate complaints of excessive force or unbecoming conduct, while an employee's unit supervisor would investigate courtesy and neglect of duty complaints.
What are my rights during an Internal Affairs investigation?
Because the complaint process is a voluntary and administrative process, there are no legal "rights" that attach on behalf of the complainant. Nevertheless, you should expect certain things from the police department, including:
1. Your complaint will be thoroughly investigated and reviewed for decision by the accused employee's commanding supervisors.
2. You will be treated fairly, with respect and your complaint taken seriously.
3. You will not be required to testify at any hearing for an accused employee in order for your complaint to be heard and fully acted upon.
4. You will not be retaliated against for making or pursuing a complaint, or for appealing any decision that you can appeal under law to the Citizens Review Board. (See FAQ "Can I Challenge The Decision?" for information about the appeals process)
Why was I passed from person to person when I initially contacted the police department about my complaint?
Once a complainant contacts the Police Department and speaks to any supervisor, the complaint should be documented for investigation. To help avoid repetitive transfers, try the following tips:
1. Try first to reach the office where the employee works.
-If no one answers and it is after normal business hours, contact the Watch Commander's Office at 704-336-2141.
-You may also contact Internal Affairs during normal business hours, Monday through Friday, at 704-336-2336 or 704-336-2183.
2. Ask to speak to a supervisor before airing your complaint.
3. Explain to the supervisor the nature of your complaint and discuss any relevant issues or questions with the supervisor.
4. Before ending your conversation, be sure to clarify with the supervisor what will happen with your complaint from that point forward, including:
Who (or what unit) will investigate the complaint;
When you can expect to be contacted again;
Any questions you have about how the investigation is conducted or how the complaint will be
resolved for you and the employee.
Please see the FAQs "How Does The Process Work?" or "What determines whether Internal Affairs or the employee's immediate supervisor investigates my complaint?" for more information about what types of cases Internal Affairs investigates as opposed to those investigated by an employee's section supervisor
How can I have my concerns addressed when an employee's performance did not violate any police department policy
Many complainants call IA and raise concerns that do not rise to the level of allegations of misconduct. These are handled in ways other than a formal investigation and range from educating the complainant about police policy, procedure or training, to an employee/supervisor discussion about how to better handle a situation. In these situations the supervisor should attempt to work out an amicable resolution to the concerns that prompted the complaint.
Why should I trust the police department to investigate its own officers?
The most effective disciplinary system combines reinforcement of the right set of values with behavioral standards that are established in clear policies, procedures and rules. The disciplinary system must be consistently and fairly applied for employees.
CMPD employees are expected to conduct themselves, both in interactions with each other and with the public, in a manner that conveys respect, honesty, integrity, and dedication to public service. This promotes and maintains public trust in the CMPD.
The CMPD is responsible for maintaining employee discipline in a way that ensures continued public trust, much like a business would want to address an employee who caused customers to look for services or products elsewhere. In policing, however, there are additional checks and balances. When criminal allegations are made, a separate criminal investigation is conducted and is reviewed by the District Attorney, who decides whether to prosecute independently of the CMPD internal discipline process. There are also citizen oversight boards that can review the details of disciplinary case investigations in some circumstances.
Is there any form of citizen monitoring for the Internal Affairs process?
There are three different organizations, staffed by citizens of the community and independent of the police department, that were established over the years that provide oversight into police operations. They are the Civil Service Board, the Community Relations Committee, and the Citizens Review Board.
The Civil Service Board is the final authority on the hiring, promotion, demotion, and termination of employment for all sworn police officers through the rank of Major. The board also hears employee appeals of sustained allegations of misconduct where the discipline imposed by the department included any type of suspension or termination of employment.
The Community Relations Committee (CRC) participates in all Internal Affairs-level chain of command board hearings involving allegations of misconduct against officers. The CRC representative is a fully involved member of the board and has the opportunity to ask questions of accused employees, witnesses, Internal Affairs investigators, as well as fully participate in the discussions and decisions of the board, including findings and any discipline. The CRC also functions as a conduit to assist citizens in filing a complaint and appealing applicable findings to the Citizens Review Board.
The Citizens Review Board (CRB) reviews citizen appeals of police department findings in complaint investigations on police officers involving unbecoming conduct, excessive use of force, arrest/search/seizure, and discharges of firearms resulting in personal injury or death. The CRB reviews appeals by a complainant by scheduling a hearing to learn the facts of the case from both the complainant and the Police Department. If the CRB feels that sufficient evidence exists to believe that the Chief of Police abused his discretion in the findings, the CRB schedules a more extensive hearing. If the CRB finds that the Chief abused his authority in making the decision, they make a recommendation to the City Manager. The City Manager would discuss it with the Chief and make a final decision. If the CRB does not find that the Chief abused his authority through the decision, the appeal process ends. If the CRB process results in a change in the findings or discipline for the officer that results in suspension or termination, that officer may appeal the ruling to the Civil Service Board, which retains final authority on findings and discipline for officers.
How does my complaint improve the department?
The CMPD benchmarks itself in a variety of ways and among the very best practices of police agencies and research institutions and groups. We engage in the practice of continual improvement, which means that we actively seek out opportunities to improve our operations and administration, to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our service delivery to you.
The complaint process also aides us in our efforts to improve operations and management because it helps us to identify areas where training is needed or can be improved, where tactics need modification, where improved management of employee behavior is needed. Complaints are an important feedback mechanism from the community to the CMPD.
Can I withdraw my complaint once the process is set in place?
Your complaint cannot be withdrawn. Once an allegation of employee misconduct is made, the department will thoroughly investigate it through Internal Affairs or a unit supervisor. Upon completion of the investigation, the accused employee's chain of command will review the case or hold a chain of command hearing to render a finding and any potential discipline in the matter.
Allowing complaints to be withdrawn would prevent the CMPD from addressing problem behaviors and learning from complaints. It also helps to reassure the public that they will not be intimidated to withdraw complaints.
Are there measures of mediation available to settle disputes between officers and citizens?
There is no formal mediation process established to settle disputes between officers and citizens. If the complaint is an allegation of employee misconduct, a formal investigation will be conducted by Internal Affairs or an employee's supervisor.
Many complaints do not rise to the level of violations of our conduct rules (and therefore do not qualify as misconduct allegations), so these events offer an opportunity for a supervisor to intervene to help resolve the citizen concern. For example, if a complaint is about a communication problem with an employee that does not qualify as a discourtesy, the officer's immediate supervisor will make every effort to resolve the issue with the employee and you. Other complaints can be handled in different ways ranging from educating you about police policies, procedures or training, to supervisor counseling with an employee. The primary goal in this situation is to seek an appropriate resolution to the complainant's concerns.
Why can't I get an apology from a police employee?
There may be times when events occur where an apology could go a long way toward repairing a citizen's satisfaction or confidence in the police. Indeed, there are many times someone in the CMPD offers a general apology or expresses regret that a citizen feels poorly treated by a member of the Department.
Once a complaint is filed, many complaint takers may be reluctant—as may everyone in the chain of command up through the chief of police—to offer an apology that may be premature or could be interpreted by lawyers as a technical admission of liability on behalf of the police organization or our local government. Unfortunately, operating in a liability-laden environment often means being unable to say, "I'm sorry."
This, of course, focuses on the potential difficulty of the CMPD apologizing after a dissatisfied citizen has filed a formal complaint. It may be possible for officers to prevent some dissatisfaction that leads to complaints simply by apologizing in the field, if they sincerely are sorry. We know, for example, that statements like "I stopped your car because we are searching for a robbery suspect who is driving one like yours. You are not the person, so you are free to go. I am sorry for any inconvenience to you," can go a long way toward resolving tension between an officer and a citizen. Certainly we hope that our employees use good judgment and apologize when it's appropriate or prudent.