Tue. May 28th, 2024

Any WCU employee found in violation of a policy or state law may go through a disciplinary process following a person filing a complaint. Disciplinary actions can be taken by the department the complaint was filed against, and in some cases by the Human Resources Department. For complaints filed against police officers or security guards, the complaint is called in or sent via e-mail to the Department of Public Safety [DPS].

Lt. Jon Brill handles the complaints by obtaining all the information from the individual filing a complaint against a police officer or security officer. Chief Michael Bicking is “briefed” on the complaint. Bicking notifies and selects the administration member of Public Safety to review the complaint. This could be done by a Lieutenant or detective.

The administrator handling the complaint will get a written statement from the person who filed the complaint. Written statements will also come from “established witnesses” who were at the scene. In his 25 years as chief, Bicking has never seen a complaint case without another witness being on scene of the interaction that resulted in a filed complaint.

“We investigate [complaints] thoroughly,” Bicking said.

The investigation is done in a matter that allows the administrators to be “transparent” from the “process” of reviewing complaints and statements made. The review is done “without victimizing anyone” including the officer and the person who made the complaint.

“If we find out that [the officer or person with the complaint did] violate” WCU policy or the law, this will be “processed.” The violation would be filed with the Human Resources Department.

For WCU employees, the Human Resources Department determines the “possibility” of discipline. Disciplinary actions include “reprimand through dismissal.”

“If someone feels that they’ve been treated inappropriately, I encourage them to make a complaint,” Bicking said.

For persons who file a complaint, they “can’t get in more trouble” than they are in from their charges or citations. Students need to understand that if they were stopped by an officer for a criminal offense, this does not affect the complaint they may file if the officers actions are not appropriate. They “can’t get out of trouble” by filing a complaint against an officer as this will not get charges “dismissed.”

“Any employee” found in violation will go through the “same disciplinary process.” If the investigation is sent to the Human Resources Department, an employee will review the “facts for the person’s actions” and statements presented. They make the decision for the disciplinary action, “if any” is required due to the actions of the employee.

The Human Resources Department works in “conjunction” with the department director that has a complaint filed against one of their employees. In the case that someone files a complaint against a police officer or security officer, Bicking would work as the director of Public Safety.

“[Public Safety] is held to the same standard,” Bicking said discussing the Human Resources Department. “If not higher.”

The “victim” that filed the complaint cannot be told of the “consequence” of the employee’s actions. Protected by a Pa. law, any disciplinary actions are not “released” to the victim. They can call the phone line to the DPS to find out if the “investigation” has been “finalized.”

“[I] want to believe that everyone that works for Public Safety will always do the right thing,” Bicking said.

Bicking said, just like any other department, “people don’t always do the right thing, but action will be taken.” If any employee does “something inappropriate” or violates policy, the administration will investigate the complaint.

Despite the fact that the “enforcement arm tends to generate complaints,” Bicking said some of the complaints he receives are legitimate.

Complaints about police officers have included students who felt the officer was “harassing” them. Some students have a “perception” that officers treat them “unfairly” or “inappropriately.” Some students will file a complaint against the officer.

These complaints are investigated by the administration of the DPS. If the investigation leads to deeming the allegations are true, the Human Resources Department may handle the investigation. The Human Resources Department investigates complaints that are the “more serve” allegations.

Disciplinary actions from the DPS could include a “letter of counseling” in which an administrator discusses the complaint with the officer. This could be done by Chief Bicking himself, or a captain or Lieutennant.

“We have to maintain creditability . . . with those that we serve,” Bicking said. The administrators of Public Safety, “always investigate [all] complaints against us with honesty and intergrity.”

“If an officer receives a disciplinary action, a record of that action is placed in their official personnel file,” Bicking said. In the case of police officers, their file is also known as their jacket.

The “possibility exists that there’s little or no evidence” for a compliant statement to be “collaborated.” Witness statements are taken into consideration during the investigation. In the case of “unfounded” complaints, administrators “can’t take action.”

For unfounded complaints, an administrator uses a “coaching opportunity” to talk with officers.

Knowing there was a “reason for the complaint,” Bicking or other administrators will discuss the actions with the officer that followed with a complaint. By discussing the officer’s actions, they can discuss how the situation “could have been handled differently.” If officers “think back over what happened” they can determine a different course of action to take if needed.

Discussing complaints with police officers and security officers can serve as a “coaching” method. For security guards in residence halls, they may receive such coaching during briefing. During this time, security guards are informed of typical complaints that are against their policy.

Complaints may include an officer using unsuitable language or having a verbal argument. Students may make a complaint in general about officers for inappropriate language or acting “unprofessional.” Complaints that are not filed against a specific officer may be used in coaching of all officers to be professional during their duties. Complaints may be filed if students think the officer used unnecessary force.

For the DPS, “one or two” complaints will be filed in a year. Bicking said in a “heavy year” there may be three or four complaints.

Parents of students may make up three of four complaints made throughout the year. Parents will call with questions regarding their child’s underage citation. Bicking said some parents complain that the police cannot discuss the “criminal case” with them. Police cannot discuss the case with parents if their student is over the age 18.

These are not complaints unless a parent is filing a complaint against the officer that responded to the scene with their student. Many parents call as “they want to know what’s going on” in the case involving their child. The police can only discuss with the parents of the student, “how we are investigating” the criminal case and the “procedures” that it includes.

The police recommend students talk with their parents when receiving an underage, if that is the case.

Ginger Rae Dunbar is a fourth year student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at RD655287@wcupa.edu.

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