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Policing Itself: Officer Explains Sandy Springs Internal Affairs Division

In 2011, a total of 77 complaints were made against SSPD officers. Sixteen were proven to be true.

 

If you’ve ever wondered how seriously officer complaints are taken against the Sandy Springs Police Department, ask Sgt. John Mullin of Internal Affairs.

“A lot of times officers come to me and say, ‘…Why did you take that complaint?’ Or…you’re supposed to be on our side,’ “ Mullin said. “The bottom line is they have a right to file a complaint and we have a duty to listen to that complaint.”

Mullin recently gave class members of the Citizens Police Academy insight on the SSPD’s Internal Affairs.

In 2011, a total of 77 complaints were made against SSPD officers. Sixteen were proven to be true. 

“The majority were rudeness type complaints,” he said.

If your gripe is you were ticketed for going 75 mph and you were going the speed limit, you won’t get anywhere with internal affairs. 

“That’s a matter for the court to handle,” he added. “Now if the allegation was ‘The officer pulled me over and used a bunch of profanities against me.’ That’s a complaint, and if proven to be true, it would be a violation of policy.”

A complaint that didn’t fly

Mullin said police received a complaint after K-9 officers were called to a car believed to be carrying contraband. The dogs walked around the car, sensed substances inside and started to scratch the vehicle. The police found drugs and the driver was arrested.

The driver later told his parents that his car was damaged when the police stopped him, for no reason.

The unknowing parents made a complaint and withdrew it when they learned truth. 

Mullin: "Case law says if a K-9 damages your car in the course of a search, police are not liable if there is contraband in that vehicle. If there is nothing in the car and dog scratches it, police have to pay the repair bill."

A complaint that was proven to be true

An officer was accused of fondling a woman after he pulled her over for a suspected DUI. “During the investigation, he was arrested and subsequently prosecuted and terminated. He went to jail,” Mullin said. 

That was an isolated case that occurred about five years ago, Mullin added.

Police officers have no right to an attorney during an internal affairs interview. If a Sandy Springs Police officer refuses to answer questions that person will be fired, Mullin said.

However, information obtained in an Internal Affairs interview cannot be used in criminal investigations of the officer. If an officer is accused of a crime, the criminal investigation, such as the case of the officer who fondled the female driver, is conducted first and separately from the internal affairs investigation.

Four outcomes for internal affairs complaints

  • Sustained – The allegation was proven to be true.
  • Not sustained – There wasn’t enough evidence or information to prove the complaint either way.
  • Unfounded  - The incident did not occur.
  • Exonerated – The incident or allegation occurred but the officer was justified in his actions.

A case for exoneration

Mullin recalled a case before he was in Internal Affairs, in which he chased a burglary suspect. At the time that was a violation of department policy, however when police pulled up to the victim, she shouted that the suspect was getting away. The officers went after him and caught him.  

“Technically they said we violated the pursuit policy, but the Chief said, 'Given the circumstances, given the that fact that you were acting in good faith…the victim was right there pointing out this is the persons that just broke into my house.' We were exonerated,” Mullin said.

Police accept complaints in person, by phone, email, even anonymously. All complaints will be investigated to conclusion, Mullin said.

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