The Civilian "Review" Board
I have no problem with a quasi- governmental
civilian review board to monitor police conduct. I
have no problem with a process that allows
recommendations for further review or change.
However, that process, itself, must be closely
monitored by the elected politicians who create the
process, and those same elected politicians must be
held responsible for the actions of their creation.
When you see a Civilian Review Board with the
authority to independently impose its will, you'll also
see a bunch of elected politicians running from the
heat of controversial issues.
No police department, no matter how efficiently and
professionally it's operated, will be totally free from
the ravages of political influence...it's just a matter
of degree. There's nothing you can do about it
except to stay far, far away from those police
departments that have fallen under the total, or
near total, control of a Civilian Review Board.
No matter what police department you join, there
will be some form of a civilian review board, or
people will be talking about forming one. The
political pressure for the formation of civilian review
boards occur in direct proportion to the size of a
police department and the level of crime.
...it's all about politics and power
If you join a small police department in a jurisdiction
where crime is under control and the law abiding
population vastly outnumbers those engaging in
criminal conduct, civilian oversight will be informal
and effective. In other words, when a police officer
commits an egregious act, the conduct will be
obvious and unlikely to fall through the cracks.
When we move to larger centers of population
where crime and criminals exist in large numbers,
the interaction between police and criminals
increases dramatically. There are two factors that
have a great deal to do with how the public views
that interaction. First... where ever the rate of
crime is high, the public develops a higher level of
tolerance for crime and criminals. Secondly,
criminals don't exist in a vacuum. Like anyone, they
have immediate and extended families, and they
have friends. Politicians are the first to recognize
that the families and friends of criminals --when
they exist in significant numbers -- represent a
voting constituency...it's all about politics and
"Every single police department in the United
States is, from its creation, under civilian
control and review. Notice that I put control
ahead of review." ~ Barry M. Baker
...an additional layer of bureaucracy
Think about this. Every single police department in
the United States is, from its creation, under civilian
control and review. Notice that I put control ahead
of review. Every TOP COP, referred to as Police
Chief, Police Commissioner, or Superintendent is a
political appointee appointed by an elected politician
(governor, mayor or city manager), and the
appointment is usually confirmed by a group of
elected politicians serving in a state legislature, or in
city, county, or town councils.
Since every police department is already under
civilian control, where is the need for an additional
layer of bureaucracy consisting of 7 to 9 additional
political appointees as recommended by the ACLU?
Under the ACLU's Effective Model, a civilian review
board should have total or near total control over
every function of a police department.
It's probably just me, but I have to ask the
question..."Why would elected officials cede their
responsibilities of control, oversight, and review to a
group of unelected people who will, without doubt,
use their positions to promote their own political
and social agendas? Fortunately, most
governments do not cede that ever sought after
total control by organizations like the ACLU. The
ACLU suggests that, "The seven to nine CRB
members are representatives of community
organizations (ie - ACLU, NAACP, etc.) ..." I'd be
curious to know those organizations described by
etc., but I get the drift. In fairness, the ACLU does
imply their desire to avoid controversy with this
statement, "Having current or former police officers
on the CRB can be controversial." Well...so much
Now...I'm a reasonable person, and I have quite a
bit of experience when it comes to the politics of
disciplinary matters within a police department. I'd
be the first to agree, even with the ACLU, that
many police departments, particularly the larger
ones, do a pretty lousy job in conducting internal
investigations. It's pretty lousy when an internal
investigation concludes with more questions than
answers, or an investigation just languishes; until,
time limits make it irrelevant, or interest in the
investigation just fades away.
Excluding investigations of criminal conduct, internal
investigations should be the easiest investigations
for police investigators to conduct. First, only a
preponderance of evidence is necessary to sustain a
complaint of misconduct against a police officer.
Secondly, a police department's rules and
regulations are usually comprehensive, and if
something is missed, there's always a "catch all"
charge to nail you.
You're entering a career where you'll be
continuously subjected to the possibility of
disciplinary action. I can't think of any other
profession or occupation that presents so much
risk involving so many varied situations and
circumstances. While some police departments take
the subject of discipline very seriously, others
don't...at least when it comes to certain people.
That's why it's very important for you to give the
police department you intend to join the same level
of scrutiny that it's going to put on hiring you.
...the TOP COP
It's all about the police chief, commissioner,
superentenant...the TOP COP. I'll use mayor and
police chief to make this point. If a mayor appoints
a police chief who is a strong and experienced
administrator, there won't be a lot of disciplinary
problems within that police department.
Guess what? A police chief doesn't even have to be
a police officer. It's okay if the chief is, or has been,
a police officer as long as the chief possesses those
all important administrative skills. You may ask, "If
the police chief doesn't have a police background,
how can the chief understand the job?
Remember...the police chief is a political appointee
whose only job is to command a thoroughly efficient
and professional organization. When it comes to
understanding the police work aspect of the
organization, the chief's command staff can fulfill
The administratively strong chief will choose a
command staff whose members are also
administratively strong, and they'll be (hopefully)
experienced police officers as well. I put "hopefully"
in there, because high ranking positions within
police departments are frequently susceptible to
political considerations if not outright political
pressure. However, if the mayor is willing to use his
or her political muscle to shield the chief from
political interference, this chief will be well on his or
her way to establishing, and maintaining, a
thoroughly efficient and professional organization.
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