(Graphic by Stephen Kline/Broadside)

(Graphic by Stephen Kline/Broadside)

The quick change in leadership at the Mason Police Department during the latter half of the Fall 2012 semester put Drew Tracey into the role of Interim Police Chief at the department.

In the ten weeks that has served as the leader of the department with 58 sworn officers, Tracey has worked towards making the station more open to the public.

Broadside initially approached Tracey on the topic of the police department complaint report system.

The Mason Police Department has released reports from 2008, 2009 and 2010 that detail the complaints filed against the department during that specific calendar year. Such complaints range in severity from off-duty assaults to unprofessional conduct. While the released reports have no problems, as of Jan. 1, 2013, the department had yet to released a report for 2011.

“We are actually not required to release it,” Tracey said, about the location of the 2011 report, “but why don’t we just do it anyway?”

According to standards set by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA), departments located on a university are technically not required to release complaint reports publicly.

However, that did not sit well with Chief Tracey.

“I’m real big on transparency, where everyone sees everything,” Tracey said. “Because if you don’t put it out there, somebody will say, ‘There were five thousand complaints that we didn’t see,’ but if you put it out there, it’s black and white and people can see the truth.”

Tracey outlines how the complaint system is one that is inherently thorough and works to ensure maximum service to those involved.

“If you send a complaint online, it goes to three people; it goes to me, Janet Ness, my Executive Assistant, and the Major George Ginovsky,” Tracey said. “The three of us get a copy, then Janet logs it in and gives it a number. Then it goes for assignment. If it’s a category one, it gets investigated by the major. If it’s a category two, the majority of times it gets sent to a lieutenant.”

Once a complaint is assigned, the lieutenant or major conducts an internal investigation that includes meeting with the officers involved as well as meeting with the individual who made the complaint.

It is during this investigation that a significant portion of the complaints ends up being dropped by those involved.

“There are a lot of complaints that turn out to be misunderstandings, that once the correct information is provided, then the person lets it go,” Tracey said.

Complaints that are not dropped ultimately result in one of four dispositions: exonerated, sustained, not sustained or unfounded.

When a complaint is exonerated, it means that the allegations of the complaint were verified. However, they resulted from proper adherence to police procedures and techniques.

When a complaint is sustained, allegations have been proved to be true and disciplinary action is taken against those involved including verbal counseling, written reprimand and more.

When categorized as not sustained, it means that the internal investigation was unable to verify any truth to the allegations.

Complaints can also categorized as unfounded, which means there is no truth to the allegations made in the original complaint.

Ultimately, these complaints are meant to be published together in a year-end report. Due to the change in CALEA standards mentioned earlier, the department has not done so, but Tracey hopes to change that.

“So I told [the individuals involved in preparing complaint reports], why don’t we complete what we have and put it on the website,” Tracey said.

As of now, the 2011 and 2012 complaint reports have yet to be posted.

Tracey views the complaint system a crucial tool for communication between the community and the department and leads efforts to make that system as clear as possible; a sentiment echoed by Vice President of Facilities Thomas Calhoun.

“We want the police to be seen as a regular part of the campus, so that it’s not just seeing the police when there is a problem.

The police should be there to help you,” Calhoun said.

This adapted police presence is something that Tracey is working hard for. So far in his tenure, Tracey has taken small steps like creating a department Facebook page in order to reach out to the community. Tracey also serves on the Police Advisory Council.

“I am looking at it as a steering committee where people can voice what is going on out there and bring ideas to the table,” Tracey said.

It is this council, that includes members from student government, the dean of student affairs, university human relations, representatives from housing, the LGBTQ office and the criminology department, that helped create the university-wide survey on police security that will be released this coming week.

“It’s going out to every member of the community; faculty, staff and students. And saying, okay, tell us what you think about the police and tell us how you feel about being safe,” Calhoun said.

This survey strives to break down the perceived barriers between the police department and the university and work towards the common goal of absolute safety.

“My philosophy when I came here was that we have to be very strong on certain aspects of crime,” Tracey said. “I’m real tough on crimes with victims like driving while intoxicated and sexual assault.”

Tracey places a high priority on these person-to-person crimes rather than low level substance abuse cases, where he sees opportunity for intervention rather than arrest.

“When I see the open container arrests or low level drug uses for the first time, I want these people to get referred to the university where they can get some counseling or they can be told, ‘hey, one more instance like this, and you’re not going to be living on campus,’” Tracey said.

This is a message that Calhoun is weary of, warning students that although such low level crimes may not be of high importance, that does not make them admissible.

“Substance abuse is a crime; so, possession, underage drinking, all that stuff is still a crime,” Calhoun said. “That will remain a focus of the police department, whether they actively seek that out and to what level they prioritize the things that they do, is really what we’re talking about.”

Ultimately, both Calhoun and Tracey agree that the police department is going through a period of change; increased transparency and fewer barriers with the university are key components to encouraging maximum safety and security to members of the Mason community.

The Mason Police Department is currently undergoing a nation wide search to permanently fill position of Police Chief at the department. Current Interim Chief Tracey has applied for the job.