Did you see our TPD Professional Standards Officers in the news?
City of Topekas Character word of the month is “Responsibility”- These guys ensure all of our employees hold to the policies and procedures and our oath to protect and serve our community.
Ensuring responsibility by Topeka police officers a key role for Lt. Shane Hilton, Sgt. Ruben Salamanca
Sgt. Ruben Salamanca, left, and Lt. Shane Hilton are officers with the Topeka Police Department in the Professional Standards unit. (Emily DeShazer/The Capital-Journal)
The responsibility of maintaining standards to ensure the public’s trust in the capital city’s police officers is a top priority for Lt. Shane Hilton and Sgt. Ruben Salamanca of the Topeka Police Department’s professional standards unit, or PSU.
“We take pride in serving the public in what we do,” said Hilton, a 19-year veteran with the department. “Any kind of complaint they have against a police officer, we accept those complaints and we investigate them. We take them very seriously, because that’s our public image.”
The city of Topeka, sponsor of the July Topeka City of Character’s word of the month, believes Hilton, who has led the unit for the past two years, and Sgt. Ruben Salamanca, who has been with the unit since November, embody the word “responsibility.”
Capt. Jana Harden, who led the professional standards unit just before Hilton was appointed to fill the position, said the office “takes on the responsibility of ensuring these standards are upheld every day by inviting the public to come to them at any time if they feel the trust has been violated.”
“The PSU is vested with the authority of the chief of police to ensure all laws, standards, statutes, ordinances and policies are complied with by every officer, every day,” Harden said.
Hilton said much of his and Salamanca’s time is used to educate the public about their rights and understanding what police officers are allowed to do or not do under the law. He said many of the complaints involve people who believe their Miranda rights were violated or an officer used too much force to arrest them.
“Most of the time, we’re operating within the scope of our rights,” Hilton said. “We (field officers) don’t have to read you your Miranda rights if we’re not questioning you about the crime that you are alleged to have committed.”
Not unlike a detective, Hilton said he gathers all the facts of a complaint against an officer as part of his investigation. After getting statements from the person filing the complaint and the officer involved in the incident and reviewing the body camera video, he compiles a report that is then sent to the officer’s commanding officer for a decision on further action.
Hilton said review of all available officer body camera video is crucial in the early stages of investigating a complaint against an officer.
“If they leave me a message or they fill out a complaint form, before I even talk to the citizen, I will review all of the available video camera recordings,” he said. “Thanks to the video cameras we wear, more often than not, I can get to the truth very quickly.”
The professional standards unit, housed in the city of Topeka’s Cyrus K. Holliday office building, is separate from the Law Enforcement Center. Hilton said former Topeka police Chief James Brown made the decision to have the office outside of the LEC for the public’s comfort in reporting complaints against officers.
“They don’t want to run into Officer X,” he said of citizens wanting to file a complaint in person. “(Chief Brown thought) the public might be more willing to come and speak with us off-site, on a neutral ground, so to speak.”
Hilton said one of his and Salamanca’s top responsibilities is to conduct internal audits within the police department to make sure officers and staff are following established policies and procedures as set out by general orders and standards set by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, or CALEA.
Salamanca, who has been with the Topeka Police Department for the past 18 years, said one his primary responsibilities is staff inspections to ensure compliance with rules and regulations.
“I make sure everybody is up to par, doing their job, the way it’s prescribed in general orders,” he said. “That gives me an even better understanding of roles, so when a citizen informs me of something I almost immediately know … if that is an infraction or not.”
Another one of Salamanca’s priorities is to make sure the department’s vehicle inventory and maintenance schedules are as current as possible.
With the public’s trust at stake, Hilton said making sure officers are operating within the scope of their responsibilities makes his and Salamanca’s jobs all that more important.
“If our officers aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing, we need to know that,” he said. “More often than not, they’re doing exactly what they need to be doing and it’s a misunderstanding or misinterpretation. But there are times where officers are held accountable for not embodying our mission.”
Sponsors of the Character “Word of the Month” are Topeka City of Character — KScharacter.org, The Topeka Capital-Journal, the city of Topeka, Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce, Topeka Rescue Mission, Stormont Vail Health, Azura Credit Union, Sprout Communications, Safe Streets Coalition and Patton &Patton law firm.