Citizen review boards (CRBs) are institutions that are set up by police departments or cities and employ review of complaints against officers by civilians. The main purpose of such boards is generally to provide an independent review of specific incidences of abuse by police or to determine the legitimacy of various internal procedures followed by police officers (The Cato Institute, 2015). According to Livingston (2003), since the establishment of CRBs occurs locally, and local politics greatly influence the powers of the institutions, citizen review boards vary significantly in terms of responsibilities, exercised powers as well as the actual success at the practice of supervising officers. Nevertheless, CRBs have been categorized into three main models which include the investigative model, the review model and the auditor model (Finn, 2001). In the first CRB model, the boards are charged with the investigation of specific allegations regarding abuse by officers and the creation of findings which are then forwarded to the mayor or police chief. On the other hand, in the review model, the boards review findings prepared by investigative processes within the police departments with the aim of determining the fairness of the findings before addressing all allegations or just those complainants appeal against. In contrast, the auditor model carries out inspections to ensure the internal review process is fair rather than focusing on specific complaints (The Cato Institute, 2015). The following paper provides examples of a citizen review board while demonstrating the drawbacks and the challenges an agency may face in their implementation of a CRB. Further, an opinion regarding police review boards is provided from the position of a police chief.
One of the examples of a citizen review board is The Berkeley, California, Police Review Commission which is a CRB that works simultaneously with the police department in the investigation of complaints (Finn, 2001). The board was formed after the police allegedly used excessive force at a local park to clear street people. This board is said to adopt the investigative model in running its operations. Another example of a CRB is The Flint, Michigan, Ombudsmans Office which examines selected citizen complaints against any city agents and departments. Currently, this board investigates unfair and unlawful practices by government agencies as well as any complaints about services provided. Like the Berkeley, the Flint uses the investigative model of CRB. The Minneapolis Civilian Police Review Authority is another example of a CRB which is an oversight system that hears and investigates citizen complaints. Also, like the other two examples, this board uses the investigative model of CRB. There is also The Orange County, Florida Citizen Review Board in which an independent review board works hand in hand with the Sheriffs department (The Cato Institute, 2015). Unlike the previous examples, this board uses the review model of CRB. Other examples of a CRB include The Portland, Oregon, Police Internal Investigations Auditing Committee; The Rochester, New York, Civilian Review Board and The St. Paul Police-Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission (Finn, 2001, p. 60).
Further, there are various drawbacks and challenges that an agency may face in efforts to implement a citizen review board. This is due to the limitations associated with citizen oversight. One of the major drawbacks is the fact that CRBs cannot guarantee police accountability by themselves (De Angelis et al., 2016). Therefore, an agency needs to ensure that the CRB is attached to either an internal or external police accountability structure. While an agency may be more than willing to implement a CRB, the institution may turn out to be insufficient to act on its own. Another challenge is due to the fact that the effectiveness of CRBs is enormously dependent on the personalities, talent, and fairness of the main individuals involved (Finn, 2001). Thus, an agency may face challenges in ensuring that the right people hold the principal positions in the CRBs for a maximum corporation that would result in a satisfactory outcome. Police agencies also experience a hard time in implementing a CRB as the institutions often have limited authority (Finn, 2001). This implies that CRBs lack the power to create department policies or take disciplinary actions against officers. According to De Angelis et al. (2016) citizen oversight lack influence on some managers in the police force or a majority of line officers. Further, it is said that citizen review boards normally fail to hold supervisors in departments responsible for the conduct of their line officers (Livingston, 2003). Thus, unless an agency is able to establish a CRB that is capable of influencing the adoption of the recommendations made in relation to procedure and policy changes, department supervisors and practices responsible for misconduct will continue being present.
As a police chief whose citizens are demanding more police accountability to the public, I would support a police review board. This is because of the potential benefits that review boards have to the police, complainants, sheriffs departments, appointed and elected officials as well as the public. Starting with the benefits to complainants, the complainants feel validated in the occasions in which the police review board agrees with their allegations. Also, through such an institution, complainants are given the fulfillment of personally expressing their concern to an officer in the case where the board uses a mediation option. Further, a police review board would play a key role in ensuring that the police or sheriffs department is held responsible for the conduct of officers. When it comes to the police and sheriffs departments, a police review board also has several benefits. One of the key benefits is the improvement of the departments image and relationship with the public (Finn, 2001). The institution would help in the establishment and maintenance of a reputation for firmness and fairness in dealing with allegations related to police misconduct. Another benefit that a police review board would bring to the police is the increase of public understanding about matters related to the working of police. Also, a CRB would help to promote community policing goals, improve the quality of internal investigations related to police misconduct as well as reassuring the citizens that investigations about public complaints are fairly and thoroughly dealt with. Additionally, a police review board would help some officers feel vindicated while discouraging misconduct and help improve procedures and policies in departments (Livingston, 2003).
Supporting a police review board would also be justified due to the benefits it has to appointed and elected officials as well as the general public. For the appointed and elected officials, the board would help the officials prove their concern to the elimination of police misconduct while also bringing down the number of successful suits against the city (Finn, 2001). For the general public, a review board would reassure the citizens that proper discipline is being imposed and police misconduct is being discouraged. Also, through the review board, the citizens understanding of police behavior, policies and procedures would be enhanced (The Cato Institute, 2015).
Further, the police review board would be expected to receive some training and have some authority as well. The type of training that would be required of the participants would primarily focus on the operations of the police department and confidentiality. It would also be important for the participants to be trained in techniques of interrogation, interviewing and investigation as well as the use of force and search warrants (Finn, 2001). This would be achieved through lecture sessions and review of written materials such as the general orders in the department, policies, and procedures. The participants might also attend a citizens academy where they would be trained on things such as firing guns and handcuffing. In terms of authority, the police review board will have the mandate to give change recommendations in department procedures and policies while suggesting possible training improvements. The review board will also have the authority to arrange for formal and informal mediation and provide the sheriffs department or police in the development or operation of early warning systems for the identification of problem police officers. This is in addition to conducting investigations, reviews, and audits related to citizen complaints.
De Angelis, J., Rosenthal, R. S., & Buchner, B. (2016). Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement: Assessing the Evidence. OJP Diagnostic Center.
Finn, P. (2001). Citizen review of police: Approaches and implementation. US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice.
Livingston, D. (2003). The unfulfilled promise of citizen review. Ohio St. J. Crim. L., 1, 653.
The Cato Institute. (2015, July 23). Civilian Review Boards. Retrieved February 07, 2018, from https://www.policemisconduct.net/explainers/civilian-review-boards/
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