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Eugene Police Department (Sarah Northrop/Emerald)

Complaints against employees and officers of the Eugene Police Department increased 20 percent from 2017 to 2018, according to an audit released last week. 

The Eugene Police Auditor's 2018 report documented 392 complaints in 2018, compared to the 325 filed in 2017. The report noted hiring new, inexperienced officers in the coming years may increase complaints.

Among the complaints are 48 allegations of misconduct, 27 of which were against 15 employees. Three of the allegations were criminal, though only one resulted in punishment: a case involving an internal report of an off duty officer driving his vehicle while drunk after an altercation with a civilian. The remaining two involved officers accused of meeting with sex workers; one was dismissed and the other was closed without a ruling after being deemed unfounded.

The complaints also include eight counts of unsatisfactory performance, two for sleeping on duty, two for breaking vehicle pursuit policy, and one allegation for incompetency, conduct, breach of confidentiality, insubordination, lack of knowledge of the law, dishonesty, and use of intoxicants each. 

The remaining 344 complaints are divided between general inquiries, service concerns, and policy concerns. A significant portion of the complaints related to slow response time or lack of response altogether, which the report attributes to staffing issues. 

“Chief [Chris] Skinner has prioritized staffing, and it is our hope that these types of complaints will decrease,” reads the report. 

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EPD Chief Chris Skinner. (Sarah Northrop/Emerald)

The report also notes that hiring more officers to combat the understaffing problem would likely result in a separate issue: an influx of inexperienced policemen leading to more judgement-related complaints. “We anticipate a potential increase in complaint volume over the coming years,” it states.

Skinner addressed the concerns in an interview with the Daily Emerald.

“We have a fairly young department and, like anything, when you have young police officers, there is a tendency to make mistakes,” Skinner said. “So the question is making sure we’re recognizing them, making sure we have recorded and documented those, and then making sure we mediate training and hold people accountable.”

According to Skinner, officers spend roughly 10 months in training before going into the field, but that doesn’t mean they won't make bad judgement calls early in their careers.

“It’s like playing golf - you can go to the range every single day and hit balls, but you actually have to play the game to get good at it,” Skinner said. 

A lack of officers in the past has led to many complaints about slow response times, according to the report. 

“Do we drive down the complaints that are merely associated with our service delivery [time],” Skinner said, “versus the young department that we are going to be for a few years, knowing that we are going to make young department mistakes for a few years?”

The report states that the auditor’s office will be reaching out to the EPD to ensure that new officers are receiving sufficient training. 

Body cameras were issued to all EPD officers in June 2017, and the auditor’s office has reviewed footage related to most incident reports. 

“Our preliminary investigations almost always include review of the [body-worn camera] footage,” reads the report.

In 2018, that included reviewing 201 incidents in which force was used. One report of deadly force resulted in a full investigation: the shooting of David Justo Duran, an alleged murderer who police fired on during his arrest.

The allegations resulted in a collective 11 oral reprimands, six documented counselings, two resignations, two suspensions, one demotion, and one written reprimand.

The department faces a transitional period after the appointment of Skinner, who replaced former Chief Pete Kerns, on April 30, 2018 and a wave of new hires, according to the report. “We anticipate several challenges over the coming year,” it states. 

“We are optimistic about meeting those and any other challenges that arise in the next year,” reads the report. “Our office is experienced, engaged, and committed to providing excellent service to the community.”

Since 2005, the auditor’s office, alongside a civilian review board, has monitored the EPD independently. A report of all incidents is compiled and publicly released every year. The auditor’s office keeps tabs on the police department, but it has no power to influence the decisions which come as a result of each complaint’s investigation. 

“I would love to get to a place where I have a police department that never gets complaints,” Skinner said. “[the auditor’s report] helps us to know where our blind spots are.”

Police Auditor Mark Gissiner was not available for comment before time of publication.