Transparency is a priority for the University of Maryland Police, and Michael Weller, the internal affairs coordinator within the department, said regardless of who makes the complaint or what it entails, he handles each incident with understanding and fairness.
“A lot of people think that police aren’t going to police themselves, and that’s why I have this job right here,” said Weller, who is responsible for addressing complaints that come through University Police. “The case is that if there’s some type of [police] misconduct, whatever that may be, we need to get that dealt with as soon as possible.”
The department aims to get back to people “within a matter of moments, if not hours,” Weller said, adding he often tries to avoid a day going by in between.
After someone files a complaint, Weller responds with a request for an interview, which allows the complainant to further voice their perspectives and thoughts, he said. This information, among other factors, helps him decide if the case warrants a full-fledged investigation.
“There’s [one] side of a story and then there’s another side of a story — and somewhere in the middle is the truth,” Weller said. “That’s what we try to move toward … to figure out what that truth is.”
Complaints can be submitted in person or online, Weller said. In efforts to ensure further impartiality, University Police Chief David Mitchell oversees the complaint process.
“It’s critically important that we are transparent, now more than ever,” Mitchell said. “We are very, very transparent compared to many police departments … part of that is because of federal law.”
The Jeanne Clery Act requires all federally-funded colleges and universities to disclose information and statistics related to campus crimes such as burglary, robbery and assault, according to the Clery Act website. The University Police make this information available online.
Each year, Weller puts together an end-of-year report detailing the types of complaints the department received, if they were substantiated and what the outcome was, Weller said. Complaint outcomes can vary depending on the nature of the case, Weller said, ranging from suspension to mandated training. These annual reports are also available on the University Police website, he said, though data from 2015 has not been published because of a pending case.
“We do everything in our power to be as transparent as we can to show that a fair and impartial investigation was conducted,” Weller said. “If one of our officers does something wrong, we want to ensure that it gets dealt with.”
Posting information online is an essential step, but University Police are always looking for ways to improve their transparency, Weller said. For example, police are working with the Student Government Association to form the Police Advisory Review Council, a panel of students and staff who would have direct insight to the department’s inner workings.
“[The Police Advisory Review Council] would provide a setting where people can be involved in the police department and know what’s going on,” police spokeswoman Sgt. Rosanne Hoaas said.
The University Police are committed to improving their transparency, and Weller said the department will always take a firm stance on police misconduct.
“The general public needs to understand that [University Police] are not anything better,” Weller said. “Our guys make mistakes, and if they make mistakes, they’re being held accountable.”