Chatham Township was one of 20 police departments in Morris County and 121 departments in the state which correctly answered five questions about filing anonymous complaints against an officer according to a report by New Jersey Public Radio and the ACLU.
Chief Steven Hennelly, who took over the department on Feb. 1, said he had not yet had a chance to look into the full report, but that under former Chief John Paton's leadership and Hennelly's coordination of internal affairs investigations, complaints against officers have decreased in recent years.
The total number of complaints and investigations against officers in 2010 was 12, with one still pending at the end of the year. In 2011, there were nine, and Hennelly said four of them were related to a single incident involving four officers.
"You know how many we had in 2012? There were three, and in two of them the officer was exonerated, which essentially means it was a misunderstanding," Hennelly said.
As lieutenant, Hennelly was in charge of internal affairs investigations. He said the decline is due to a number of different factors. "Not everyone who comes through the door to lodge a complaint is right, and not everyone is wrong. It's our job to figure out what's right."
Most complaints are related to motor vehicle stops, and most are ones where "the officer could have chosen his words more carefully, could have been a little more diplomatic," Hennelly said. "Most of them have been attitude and demeanor complaints. But those have gone down to nothing," Hennelly said.
As for other incidents of complaints against officers, Hennelly said they come up rarely, usually in civil incidents.
Anonymous Complaints in New Jersey
State law protects residents who make complaints over police behavior and allows for complaints to be made anonymously. The ACLU called 497 police departments in New Jersey and asked officers questions about filing complaints.
Of those 497 departments, more than half answered at least one question incorrectly, according to a report by New Jersey Public Radio and the ACLU. Chatham Township was one of the 121 departments in the state to answer all questions correctly.
A widget included in the WNYC.org report — and embedded above — allows readers to search for complaint sheets by police department. These records do not give enough information, according to the report. The numbers lack context — such as if numerous incidents involve the same officer — making it hard to notice patterns.