Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose said yesterday he has ordered sweeping changes in the way the department investigates complaints against officers, stripping station officials of their authority to determine whether a complaint should be forwarded to the Office of Internal Affairs.
Under the new system, all complaints will be sent to internal affairs, a system which Moose said will ensure that all complaints are handled in the same manner and give him a better understanding of how his officers are performing.
And Moose made it clear that he believes that any officer found to have lied should be fired. "We should have a standard that says if you lie, you're fired," Moose said in an interview yesterday.
The centralization of the complaint process, effective Nov. 1, is the most significant change that Moose has initiated since becoming head of the 1,032-member force Aug. 2. Moose announced the changes four days after he alluded to problems with the complaint handling process in a speech at a police academy graduation.
In the speech, delivered Thursday at Northwest High School in Germantown, Moose expressed outrage that eight officers against whom charges of untruthfulness were sustained "continue to carry a badge and a gun, and drive about the county arresting people and going to court and testifying."
Moose stunned the crowd of new officers and family members by deriding the lack of respect that he believes the department's code of honor is accorded. "It's just an absolute joke and a lie, because you don't have to have a code of honor in the Montgomery County Police Department. You can be untruthful and keep your job," Moose said. "They'll tell you you don't have to tell the truth and you can be a Montgomery County police officer."
The chief's comments evoked a storm of controversy among officers, and among the most vocal critics was the Fraternal Order of Police. Officials of the police union could not be reached for comment yesterday.
"I didn't infer that everyone is untruthful," Moose said yesterday, responding to criticism. "There are people in the department who are untruthful. And I'm not comfortable with that. Apparently, it doesn't [unnerve officers in the department], because I'm the bad guy. I'm the one [who some people think] needs to apologize."
Under the current system, complaints filed against police officers by citizens or other police department employees are initially handled by sergeants or lieutenants at one of the five district stations. These officials determine whether they consider an allegation serious or complex enough to be forwarded to internal affairs.
Complaints that these officials consider to be minor are handled within the district station, while allegations deemed by the officials to be criminal are sent to the department's investigative bureau.
The new plan would, in effect, centralize the complaint handling process in much the way that police departments across the state did years ago.
Currently, in those instances when complaints are sustained, or found to be true, there are no standard penalties set for the different types of infractions. Moose said he wants to develop a standard discipline policy but has not yet discussed the issue with the police union.
The controversy over the department's investigation of complaints comes less than a month after the County Council's office of legislative oversight sharply criticized the current process, saying it was ambiguous, out of date and misunderstood by citizens and police officers.
The report also found the department's complaint handling process is severely hampered by a lag in technology. Moose said yesterday that he has asked for a copy of the computer system that the Prince George's County Police Department uses to manage its internal affairs cases.
Moose said he is also trying to speed up the internal affairs process, which often takes months to investigate a complaint. The length of time required for such investigations has been criticized by officers and union officials.
In the last six months, two new sergeants have been added to the division, but Moose said he has no clear timetable on when he'll appoint a permanent head for the embattled division.
Staff writer Manuel Perez-Rivas contributed to this report.