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Monday, May 11, 2015


Last week, on May 4, I introduced the concept of re-instituting Civilian (or Citizen) Review Boards as an important initial step toward making policing responsible to the community that is being served and protected.

It is important to insert a bit of history here in order to understand the development of the CRB movement. The ACLU website summarizes that development quite well:
“Civilian review of police activity was first proposed in the 1950s because of widespread dissatisfaction with the internal disciplinary procedures of police departments. Many citizens didn't believe that police officials took their complaints seriously. They suspected officials of investigating allegations of abuse superficially at best, and of covering up misconduct. The theory underlying the concept of civilian review is that civilian investigations of citizen complaints are more independent because they are conducted by people who are not sworn officers. By the end of 1997, more than 75 percent of the nation's largest cities (more than 80 cities across the country) had civilian review systems. Civilian review advocates in every city have had to overcome substantial resistance from local police departments. Strong community advocacy is necessary to overcome resistance, even after civilian review is established.
Civilian review systems create a lot a confusion because they vary tremendously. Some are more "civilian" than others. Some are not boards but municipal agencies headed by an executive director (who has been appointed by, and is accountable to, the mayor). Some act only as appeal boards to look into complaints of unfair internal reports already completed.
"Civilian review establishes the principle of police accountability. Strong evidence exists to show that a complaint review system encourages citizens to act on their grievances. Even a weak civilian review process is far better than none at all, " according to the ACLU, but on the police side, there is almost unanimous disagreement with that statement.

One could say that overall, police have alluded to CRB s as witch hunts of benefit to no one. In Hartford , Connecticut in March of 1980, where a police officer shot and killed an innocent man, the Common Council was pushed to endorse the concept of a permanent civilian review board. The Hartford Institute of Criminal and Social Justice produced a report in response to the council's resolution in order to help determine what the council should do next. The Institute conducted interviews and studies in seven cities and from others on a more limited basis to determine what people thought and to find what types worked and what the successes were. The Report, titled "Civilian Review of the Police -- the Experiences of American Cities" was conducted in March 1980, and has been somewhat influential ever since. The seven cities where detailed information was collected, included: Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Memphis, New York, Oakland, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Miami, Minneapolis, Rochester, Washington and York (PA). Their various approaches, and those of other cities, are listed below:
1. Chicago, Illinois: Office of Professional Standards; physically within the police department but separate from the Internal Affairs Division; operated by three civilian administrators appointed by the superintendent of police; one black, one white, one Hispanic—all lawyers. Started in 1974.

2. Detroit, Michigan: Board of Police Commissioners; administered by the Office of the Chief Investigator; composed of five civilians appointed by the mayor with the approval of the city council; minority representation, including one woman. Started in 1974.

3. Kansas City, Missouri: Office of Citizen Complaints; five-person civilian staff appointed by the Board of Police Commissioners. Started in 1970.

4. Memphis, Tennessee: Police Advisory Commission; composed of no more than eighteen and no less than ten civilian members; appointed annually by the director of police and the mayor from a list of candidates provided by the commission; commission members represented both extremes, for and against police. Started in 1977.

5. New York City, New York: Civilian Complaint Review Board; located within the police department with seven members: three police appointed by the police commissioner and four community representatives assigned by the mayor; ethnic mixture. 1953 forward— police members only; after 1966— addition of civilians.

6. Oakland, California: Citizens Complaint Board; mayor appoints seven citizens to one-year terms subject to approval by the city council; cross section of the community. Started in 1980.

7. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Police Advisory Board; five, then eight civilian members appointed by the mayor with no fixed length of term; cross section of the community with two retired police officers to add balance. 1958-1969.

8. Baltimore, Maryland: Complaint Evaluation Board; unstated membership, all were government employees or elected officials with one active police officer as member. Started around 1965.

9. Miami, Florida: Office of Professional Compliance; four members with a director appointed by the city manager and the police chief. Started in 1980.

10. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission; unstated membership staffed by the city council; short lived due in part to the commission subpoenaing the president of the city council. 1965.

11. Rochester, New York: Civilian Review Board; nine members appointed by the city manager; disbanded when no longer funded. 1963-1971.

12. Washington, D.C.: Civilian Review Board; seven members including two attorneys, how appointed not stated. 1948-1965; in 1965 completely restructured, then oddly disbanded the same year; re-purposed in 1980.

13. York, Pennsylvania: Police Review Board; city council appointed five York residents to act as a board and also to advise the mayor and other officials about police ”oppressiveness.” 1960-1962

 The various boards not only differed in type, but also in the amount of authority each possessed. Some had investigatory power and could issue subpoenas; others were advisory only. In addition, it appeared that some boards were adversarial to a large degree while others agreed in nearly every instance with a police review of circumstances and procedures. The writer of an article on CRB's at lists for us the Pros and Cons found in regard to CRB's. Here is my summary of that list:

CRB's appear to have some positive influences on the public:
+creating more effective public relations
+acting as a safety valve for both police and citizens
+increasing respect for the law when reviews are well handled
+increasing public confidence in police departments when police demonstrate agreement to undergo review

CRB's appear to have some positive affect on perception of the police:
+an exonerated officer less likely to be thought of as having escaped justice
+often aid in dispelling the belief that all police are brutal and arbitrary
+police appear less isolated and more accountable

CRB's in general:+cannot handle every complaint leveled at police
+can deter misconduct before it happens because police don't like public review
+can act as conduit for some form of settlement even if complaint does not merit court action

Most of the adverse reactions have to do with harassing or undermining the police
-destroy morale
-anyone can harass police to get them in trouble
-police job security hangs in the balance
-police are less efficient knowing they can be called in by review board
-police know their business best and CRB's are redundant to a police review

Many of the con's fall into category of flaws in the CRB itself or its procedures
-police powers cannot be delegated, therefore CRB's are unlawful
-fail to provide for procedural safeguards such as rules of evidence, protection against double jeopardy
-entertain minor to frivolous complaints
-very existence aids in polarizing police and citizens
-emotional catharsis takes place more than dispassionate inquiry

-internal review places responsibility for handling misconduct with those who best know how to cure it
-only the police know their business, and every profession should have the right to internal review and self-discipline
-other adequate means are available to citizens with legitimate complaints, such as the courts
-history of CRB's is lackluster
-civilians are generally less strict in reviewing police misconduct

 The author of this piece, in regard to civilians being less strict about officer misconduct, raises a seminal question: why then are review boards necessary, especially if police are harder on themselves than are citizens? My own answer is not complicated: internal review and discipline are not generally open processes with full disclosure. In fact, as with the AMA, it is too often a ready mechanism for excuses, blaming the victim, controlled disclosure, cover up and diversion than a full-blown unbiased inquiry with a resulting plan for discipline and improvement. That, my friends, is the nature of the beast: minimize damage to the profession, protect one's own members, and avoid repercussions.

In my opinion , the existence of a CRB should be formulated in keeping with some basic principles:
1) Positive Community relations must be a primary goal
--A review board by itself is not sufficient
--Police review is too narrow a concept; the purpose must be broadened
2) There must be controls in place to assure thoroughness and fairness
--one mechanism might be an impartial ombudsman, acting both as citizen advocate and government official who would oversee all complaints and all investigations of alleged misconduct
--another could be staff on the CRB who understand police policies and procedures
--a third might be the requirement of a diversified membership representing the community-at-large
--how members are selected is also an important contributing factor to fairness
3) On-going Citizen concern and involvement is paramount
--promoting the integrity of the Board and of the police is important in order to enhance community confidence in both
4) Cooperation and respect must be the order of the day
--mechanisms for cooperation must be found, such as the issuance of joint recommendations
5) Training and re-training must be a prime target for improvement
--training for Board members and for police members must be on-going, and some mutual training would be ideal as would involvement in training of each other
So let us begin our quest for citizen involvement from a different angle than the simple review of police misconduct. Let us begin with defining the larger problem of mutual relations of public servants to their community (constituency) and of citizens to their community, institutions and leaders.

First, we turn back to that earlier Blog post I mentioned, when on August 17, 2014, I discussed the policing principles of Sir Robert Peel, remembered today as the "Founder of Modern Policing." Several of his nine foundational principles speak directly to the matter of community support, approval, and involvement in policing., so here are all nine in brief :

#1: The basic mission for which police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
#2: The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.
#3: Police must secure the willing cooperation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
#4: The degree of cooperation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
#5: Police seek and preserve public favor, not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
#6: Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.
#7: Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
#8: Police should always direct their action strictly toward their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.
#9: The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

Perhaps some police departments still display these principles on walls but adherence to them has seemed to fade into obscurity. Yet the wisdom of the past is sometimes a clarion call to reality in the present. Perhaps it is not too far-fetched to promote discussion of the mission of police. Maybe it could start in police training. Perhaps chiefs could begin the discussion with other brass. Perhaps an internal discussion, at the invitation of the Mayor and Common Council could be extended to citizens of the community in neighborhood forums. It would take some skillful organization to do this, but its time has come, and is an essential step that must be done lest more cities become a Ferguson or a Baltimore.

Perhaps another step toward community approval and involvement in policing could be achieved by a change of attitude accompanied by a change in appearance and tactics. Are the police at war with their communities? That is the message given by riot gear, military armor and vehicles, by tear gas and smoke bombs, by Tasers and clubs. Are the police separate from the communities in which they serve, hidden in squad cars, rarely out among the people unless it is to give orders and directions, stop and frisk suspects, or pull over and search "suspicious" vehicles and their drivers? How do we change such images and symbolic messages? We do it first by talking with citizens and building rapport. But more especially, our police departments must choose uniforms, equipment and actions that demonstrate a new message. It is a principle of human behavior that you cannot influence another person if the symbols and body movements you display are contradictory to the words you speak. Yes, actions, style of dress, equipment and behaviors do speak louder than words!

The very real core of the "Peelian Principles" is a dedication to the proposition that the approval, respect and cooperation of the citizenry are key to successful and effective policing. Have we simply forgotten this principle, or have we allowed it to get buried beneath false premises, false stereotypes and false rhetoric?

Is there a certain element (small though it may be) of cops with bad attitudes and distorted viewpoints who regard all African-Americans (and possibly Hispanic Americans) as "criminals," "thugs" or "animals?" Have those attitudes of a small minority of police against a small cohort of minorities infected others within our police departments so that even the "good cops" are not quite sure about how to view racial minorities? Is there an attitude prevalent among our top brass of police departments that the fewer racial minorities recruited into the "corps" the better? Is there a flagrant distortion among even our best cops that racial minorities are somehow inferior to other people and don't deserve the same consideration given to white businessmen, for example? Probably; and some of it is caused by the fact that young inexperienced officers are often given their first assignments in high crime areas in minority neighborhoods, where joblessness, high crime and a criminal element make everything they see and confront seem to be the norm for everyone of color. But because of their lack of involvement with other community members, and their lack of training in generational and institutional poverty, and the lack of community representatives in their training courses, they are quickly sold on stereotypical characteristics that seem to confirm the need for a certain adversarial and belligerent attitude.

On the other hand, is it any different on the community side? Not really. Trust is low; affection is rare; relationships are almost non-existent, and "white" is often hated. Cops are still "pigs" to many, and hatred of them is not an unknown quality. But here again, there is a misconception and misperception, for in the midst of all of this there is also an attitude of belief that cops aren't all as bad as they are made out to be. Street slang and street talk and street attitudes sometimes infect our Black communities in the same way bad cops can infect their brothers and sisters in uniform. There is still a large cohort of Blacks and Hispanics who try to better their communities; who abhor violence and crime; who want more education, who want to follow Jesus' Golden Rule of Love Thy Neighbor. There is within all of these minority communities, the soul of a people who care about others, who care about family, who care about their community and their churches, and their young people. There are elderly folk who carry with them traditions of the past that are values we all have in common. There are emerging leaders who want to give back to their people and their communities through service professions and by joining the armed forces of this country. There are many young people who are eager to be contributors to their community and not takers from it.

So we have two communities that share similar malignant attitudes, at the same time that a large portion share the same values of goodness, kindness and justice. The problem is, with all the suspicion of each other, how do we get them together? How do we bring together two communities that need each other's take on goodness and evil, so that cooperation, support of each other, and mutual goals are the outcomes. I don't know for sure. All I know is that we have to talk, we have to meet and we have to interact without all the stereotypes and false assumptions getting in the way. It's a tall order, and I have just one small suggestion.

We probably ought to have continuing public forums, but we need also to promote small group meetings in homes. Perhaps the formation of neighborhood advisory committees, made up of police meeting with people from minority neighborhoods, are more desirable. These advisory groups need to be recognized and organized by the leaders from both communities, and they should meet on a regular schedule. The advice they give should be mutually decided and be able to be presented to the Mayor and the City Council. Those governmental entities should be responsible for responding to each and every recommendation that comes forward, and should also ask often for more advice and more explanation. This is a beginning step toward cooperation and respect, but is not an end in itself. Such groups have a tendency to evolve if there is real interaction, and there will be for some but not necessarily for all. Again, these groups might need trained facilitators at the beginning stages, but should move as quickly as possible to their own agenda and leadership.

What is important is that these groups must have support from city leaders. They can't just exist in a vacuum. They must have their best recommendations on community matters, especially community policing, recognized, publicized and put into practice as quickly as possible. My opinion is that these advisory groups need to precede any type of review board so that CRBs are more natural outgrowths of discussions between police and community members, as they ought to be. Perhaps a city-wide advisory group would be a natural outgrowth of these neighborhood groups and it could be the responsibility of the city-wide board to handle complaints of police misbehavior something like they did in Memphis, TN. Adding an office of ombudsman would build-in a safeguard that might assure a balanced and just approach to such complaints.

Let it be said that there is no perfect way to do this: to have civilian review boards and police departments that seek change and better training when those are necessities. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to bring back these elements of policing that emphasize police as part of the community and the community as part of the police. We simply cannot continue along the path we have been on. It is too dangerous, too deadly, and too destructive. It is time to change the symbols and the attitudes that are leading us astray, and we do that by finding ways to work together, as I have suggested, rather than by adversarial attacks upon each other.