Complaints & Use of Force

In order to provide better customer service and accessibility to police services, the following FAQs, answers, web links and other information is provided.  If you cannot find the information you need below, please contact us at (626) 744-4501.  


What is a personnel complaint? 

 The Department takes all personnel complaints very seriously.  Our Code of Conduct Statement is online at  www.cityofpasadena.net/Police/Code_of_Conduct/   

 A personnel complaint is any allegation of misconduct or improper job performance against any department employee, sworn or civilian, that may constitute a violation of department policy, or federal, state or local law.  

 There are two types of complaints, informal and formal:  

 1.       Informal Complaint- Informal complaints may be verbalized without being documented on a personnel complaint form.  Once made, the responsible supervisor has the discretion to resolve the informal complaint consistent with department policy and the person making the complaint is satisfied that appropriate action will be taken.   

 2.       Formal Complaint- Formal complaints are documented in writing requesting an investigation and conclusion.  A formal complaint can be made by either a citizen (external) or by a supervisor (internal) who has determined that administrative action is warranted.  Complaints are investigated by a police supervisor of the accused employee or referred to the Department’s Professional Standards Unit, depending upon the seriousness and complexity of the accusation.  Formal complaints are assigned a file number;  investigations are documented in writing, and  presented for review and disposition by Command Staff, per Department policy.  

 Occasionally, a complaint involves a person who then refuses to cooperate with investigators or is unavailable for follow-up contact.  In these situations, and at the discretion of the Professional Standards Unit, the investigation may proceed without the complainant’s cooperation or be suspended with the approval of the Chief of Police.   

How do I make a personnel complaint? 

 A complaint can be filed in person, in writing, through a community liaison, or by telephoning the Police Department.  Although not required, the Department encourages the complainant to appear in person so that they can speak directly to a department representative.  

 The Personnel Complaint form is available online at http://www.cityofpasadena.net/Police/Contact_Us/  

 Anonymous or third-party complaints will be accepted and investigated to the extent that sufficient information is provided.  

 Please fill out a Personnel Complaint form as completely and as clearly as possible, with as much detailed information as you have available. If this is not feasible, the complaint may be given verbally, in person, to the receiving supervisor to ensure all of your available information is included.   We encourage anyone making a complaint to also allow us to obtain a recorded statement. However, this is not required.  Declining to be recorded is not grounds for the Department to decline your complaint.  Please also sign and date your complaint form before submitting. You will receive a copy of your original complaint form and acknowledgement from us that we have received it.   

 Complaints are referred to the on-duty supervisor or section administrator for processing.  Complaints involving significant allegations are also given to the Watch Commander, applicable Division Commander and Chief of Police as soon as practicable.    

What happens to my personnel complaint? 

 Each complaint is processed and investigated as appropriate and on an individual basis.  Generally, the investigation and administrative review are concluded within one year, unless extenuating circumstances exist that prolong the investigation.

 Once the investigation is completed, the results are presented to an Administrative Review Board.  The Professional Standards Unit will notify the complainant of its findings in writing by letter.  Each allegation shall be classified with one of the following dispositions:  

 Unfounded - When the investigation discloses that the alleged act(s) did not occur or did not involve department personnel.  Complaints which are determined to be frivolous will fall within the classification of unfounded   

 Exonerated - When the investigation discloses that the alleged act occurred, but that the act was justified, lawful and/or proper.  

 Not Sustained - When the investigation discloses that there is insufficient evidence to sustain the complaint or fully exonerate the employee.  

 Sustained - When the investigation discloses sufficient evidence to establish that the act occurred and that it constituted misconduct.   

Community Mediation Program

The Community Mediation Program's is an alternative to the traditional complaint process by providing an opportunity to resolve disputes and concerns between complainants and Pasadena Police Department employees through mediation, facilitated by the Western Justice Center Foundation, 55 S. Grand Avenue, Pasadena, CA.  

The setting is an informal, non-disciplinary, and non-adversarial process agreed to in advance by involved parties and it can address complaints involving procedures, service, courtesy concerns, and police tactics. Complaints regarding use of force, illegal arrests, discriminatory slurs, and alleged criminal conduct by a member are generally inappropriate for mediation. 

The mediation is voluntary and intended to foster constructive communication between the complainant and the Police Department with the assistance of a trained neutral party mediator. The Program’s objectives are to increase the satisfaction of community and Department members in the resolution of public complaints. The open communication fosters greater understanding on both sides in a neutral setting designed to identify problem-solving solutions. 

Interested complainants can utilize the Community Mediation Program by contacting the Administrative Services Section Lieutenant (626-744-6724) to determine eligibility and arrange for Dispute Resolution Services (DRS). The DRS Representative will contact the complainant to verify participation and coordinate the meeting with Police Department employees. At the conclusion of the mediation sessions, and with the agreement of all involved parties, the initially complaint would be withdrawn as resolved through mediation.

When is it proper for a police officer to use force? 

 An officer’s ability to use force against a person is strictly governed by the Federal and State Constitutions; existing court case law; the California Penal Code and Department Policy.  Police officers are granted authority to use reasonable force to accomplish lawful objectives.  California Penal Code Section 835 authorizes a peace officer to use reasonable force to affect an arrest, to prevent escape, or to overcome resistance.  

 Whenever an officer uses categorical force to affect an arrest or detention, a supervisor is notified and conducts an investigation to evaluate whether the officer(s) used reasonable force.  The factors considered for reasonableness include:  

 (a) The immediacy and severity of the threat to officers or others;  

 (b) The conduct of the individual being confronted, as reasonably perceived by the officer at the time;  

 (c) Officer/subject factors (age, size, relative strength, skill level, injuries sustained, level of exhaustion or fatigue, the number of officers available vs. subjects);  

 (d) The effects of drugs or alcohol on the person detained;  

 (e) Subject's mental state or capacity;  

 (f) Proximity of weapons or dangerous improvised devices;  

 (g) The degree to which the subject has been effectively restrained and his/her ability to resist despite being restrained;  

 (h) The availability of other options and their possible effectiveness;  

 (i) Seriousness of the suspected offense or reason for contact with the individual;  

 (j) Training and experience of the officer;  

 (k) Potential for injury to officers, suspects and others;  

 (l) Whether the person appears to be resisting, attempting to evade arrest by flight, or is attacking the officer;   

 (m) The risk and reasonably foreseeable consequences of escape;  

 (n) The apparent need for immediate control of the subject or a prompt resolution of the situation;  

 (o) Whether the conduct of the individual being confronted no longer reasonably appears to pose an imminent threat to the officer or others;  

 (p) Prior contacts with the subject or awareness of any propensity for violence;  

 (q) Any other exigent circumstances.  

 The Department’s policies also provide guidelines on reasonable use of force but each situation is different and fluid. There is no way to specify the exact amount, or type, of reasonable force to be applied in every situation and, as a result, an employee’s use of force will be evaluated every time on a case-by-case basis.    

The Department recognizes and respects the value of all human life and dignity without prejudice. Vesting officers with the authority to use reasonable force and to protect the public welfare requires monitoring, evaluation and a careful balancing of all interests.  

Officers must continually evaluate factors that may either require the escalation or the de-escalation of force as the situation progresses or circumstances dictate. De-escalation techniques are actions used by officers, when safe to do so and without compromising law enforcement priorities, that seek to minimize the need to use force during an incident. Techniques may increase the likelihood of voluntary compliance or provide officers with opportunities to decrease levels of applied force when appropriate.

 Every member of the Department is expected to comply with all legal guidelines and be professional, impartial and reasonable in their decision making, especially when having to use force.  To help personnel be the most effective and efficient while on duty, the Department conducts continual and on-going training and testing related to force application.  

What happens following an Officer-Involved Shooting (OIS)? 

An Officer-Involved Shooting (OIS) is one of the most serious events that an officer, his/her department and the community ever faces.  In order to preserve the public’s trust, all OIS events receive the highest level of scrutiny, investigation and review available to the Department.   

The post-shooting investigation involves many internal and external procedures.  The following is a summary of the process after an OIS.  These items are listed by order of importance and some tasks may be completed simultaneously by different persons: 

Immediately or soon after the incident 

  • Police Command Staff and Administrative personnel are notified of the incident, some of whom may go to the scene and/or assist at the Command Post with the incident.  
  • Investigators with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) Homicide/OIS Bureau are requested to respond and conduct the criminal investigation for incidents involving injuries. The Sheriff’s Department will facilitate the arrival of Forensic Specialists and a Pasadena Police Detective Supervisor will be assigned as a LASD liaison. 
  • Non-Injury incidents will be investigated by the Pasadena Police Criminal Investigations Unit.   
  • Investigators begin their crime scene investigation and witness interviews.  
  • Forensic Specialists process and collect items of physical evidence.  

Usually within 24 hours 

  • The involved officer(s) will be interviewed by investigators. 
  • The scene will be cleared after evidence is photographed and collected. 

Beyond 24 hours 

  • Investigators continue their investigation. 
  • In certain cases, additional government agencies may be requested to assist in the investigations such as the U.S. Department of Justice or the FBI. 

The Pasadena Police Department will conduct a comprehensive Administrative Investigation, following the conclusion of  independent criminal investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The investigative findings will then be presented to the Department’s Use of Force Review Board as part of the administrative review process.  The officer(s)’ actions (prior to, during and after the shooting) and the incident management will be examined, which will include an assessments of policies and procedures, supervision, tactics, training and equipment. 

How does the Pasadena Police Department review and oversee uses of force by its employees? 

The Department objectively evaluates each use of force incident by its employees to ensure that their authority was lawful, appropriate and consistent with training, policy and the law.  A Use of Force Report is completed for each use of force incident.  The report is forwarded to Professional Standards Unit for tracking and an Administrative Review. 

The Professional Standards Unit shall ensure that a thorough investigation of the incident is conducted with particular emphasis on the following areas: 

(a)   Compliance to all Department policies and procedures. 

(b)  Identification and management of liability exposure created by the incident in a manner consistent with the best interests of the City, Department and involved personnel. 

(b) Identification of any training concerns connected to the incident. 

(c) Completion of a thorough presentation of the investigation to the Administrative Use of Force Review Board. The City Attorney's Office will have a representative present during the Administrative Use of Force Review. 

The Administrative Use of Force Review Board will evaluate the circumstances surrounding every discharge of a firearm in the City, whether the employee was on- or off-duty, excluding training or recreational use.  Administrative Use of Force Review panel includes the Chief of Police, Deputy Chief of Police, Police Commanders, Chief’s Adjutant, the police lieutenant or administrator supervising the subject officer(s)/employee(s); the Administrative Section Police Lieutenant, the Training Sergeant, and subject matter experts (SME) 

The review shall be based upon the facts reasonably believed, or known, by the officer at the time of the incident, applying any legal requirements, Department policies and procedures and approved training. 

1.       The Board shall make one of the following findings:   

 The employee's actions were within or outside Department policy or procedure. Make recommendations regarding training, equipment, supervision and tactics, as deemed appropriate. 

2.       If the Chief of Police concludes that discipline should be considered, the investigation is forwarded to the Internal Affairs Unit for further investigation. 

3.       If an employee’s actions are found to be outside of department policy or the law, discipline may be imposed based upon the severity of the violation and the officer’s performance history.  

The Public Safety Committee of the City Council is kept informed of significant use of force incidents.  Additionally, the Department presents bi-annual summaries of all PPD Use of Force investigations to the Public Safety Committee.  The Public Safety Committee’s meetings are open to the public to attend.  Agendas and meeting schedules are posted online at http://ww2.cityofpasadena.net/commissions/council_pubsafety.asp and in the Rotunda at City Hall, 100 N. Garfield Avenue, Pasadena, CA. 


Posted: 3/17/2014 11:30:00 AM
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