Florida Keys News
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
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CRB wants complaint procedures improved

Concerns over the Key West Police Department's reaction to a frustrated resident who tried to file a written complaint against an officer spurred the Citizen Review Board Monday night to seek an audience with Chief Donie Lee.

The CRB voted unanimously to direct Lee to take disciplinary action against Sgt. Robert Allen for "deficient service" in light of Allen's alleged failure to listen to Kenneth Lawrence's complaints -- mainly that the 47-year-old scooter delivery man was being unjustly stopped, harassed and treated rudely by motorcycle Officer Randall Hartle.

The board also directed CRB Executive Director Sue Srch to send Lee a letter asking that he formally reprimand Allen as well as request a meeting with Lee, Srch and CRB Chairman Larry Beavers so the board can outline its concerns and recommended changes to the police complaint process.

The CRB determined during its July meeting that race had not been a factor in Hartle's traffic stops and tickets against Lawrence.

Lawrence did not appear at that July meeting, but he did show up on Monday to say Hartle was "condescending," "rude," and "dismissive," during at least seven separate minor traffic stops this year, two of which led to citations that Lawrence is fighting in court.

The lack of video recorders on police motorcycles and the lack of allegations that racial slurs were used factored into the board's dismissal of the racial profiling aspect of Lawrence's complaint.

The board focused Monday evening on the alleged indifference later shown by Allen at police headquarters when Lawrence arrived to file a written complaint against Hartle.

Lawrence said Monday evening that Allen "made no effort to take my statement," and said he didn't believe Lawrence and that Allen "was just trying to get me to leave without filing a complaint."

Police CRB representative Sgt. Joseph Tripp explained that often shift supervisors tell people who show up to complain that their gripe is better suited for the courts and other times duty supervisors may be on the road as opposed to at the station when the person arrives.

It's good that officers try to resolve issues prior to formal complaints being made, but the department should be more attentive to those wishing to specifically file written complaints, Beavers said.

The board agreed with Tripp that legal arguments are better suited for the courts, but all members expressed concern over Allen's alleged failure to address Lawrence's complaints -- a separate issue from the legality of the citation, noted CRB member Kevin Collins.

"I'm very worried about the process of filing complaints and people should not feel intimidated when they want to file a complaint," Collins said. "This should be an easy and direct process."

Board member Tom Milone suggested police install cameras at the outside lobby area of the police station so interactions with police and residents can be videotaped, as well as install cameras on police motorcycles.

Milone also suggested police record all conversations that take place on the public phone located outside the department's front door that is used to reach personnel inside the police station.

CRB member Joe Pais was succinct in his take: "It seems to me Sgt. Allen didn't want to take the complaint," Pais said, adding that such action was unacceptable.

"It's about customer service and this case is a great example of an issue that may have been resolved with better customer service," Collins said.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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