Police Complaints

"Unfounded" vs "Not Sustained" (corrected)

At last week’s POC meeting, commissioners reviewed a citizen complaint alleging that an APD officer had behaved rudely. The IRO called the complaint “unfounded” because the preponderance of evidence did not support the claim. Commissioner Siegel suggested a more appropriate finding would be “Not Sustained” but IRO Hammer repeated that “Unfounded” was the correct finding.

We believe that Mr Siegel had the better of that disagreement. In fact, a proper finding might even be “Exonerated”.

Calling a complaint “Unfounded” is only appropriate (Correction: See comments below) when a citizen makes a claim that, even if true, would not be a violation of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). For example, a complaint that an officer was chewing gum would be unfounded since there is no SOP (that we know of) that prohibits gum-chewing. In this case, the citizen claimed rudeness, which is a violation of SOP (1-04-1-F), but the evidence disproved the claim.

Therefore, the finding should have been “Exonerated”.

(UPDATE: This story has been corrected. See comments.)

  • If the POC Vice-Chair doesn't know the meaning of "sustained" does it really matter?



  • Definitions taken directly from the commission’s 2000 annual report…. Definition of findings: Sustained: The allegation is supported by sufficient proof. Not Sustained: The evidence is not sufficient to prove or disprove the allegation. Unfounded: The allegation is false or otherwise not based on valid facts. Exonerated: The incident that occurred or was complained against was lawful and proper. Other: The evidence supports action for infractions discovered during the investigation of a complaint that may be sustained, not sustained, unfounded or exonerated. Inactivated: The investigation was inactivated by either the citizen or by Internal Affairs.



  • Thanks for digging that up, Charlie. Looks like Ms Hammer was correct then. "Exonerated" means that the allegation is true, but that the actions were lawful and proper. It still seems like "Disproved" should be a separate category from "Unfounded," but based on these definitions, Robin Hammer was correct to call the allegations in this case "Unfounded."