Civilian Review Boards

I know these are nothing new…at least not to us on the Left Coast…but a recent law signed in Sacramento allows for a BART oversight board. What does that mean exactly? It means civilians with no police experience will be looking over the shoulder of BART police.

From the KRON4 news article: “Existing laws allows the board to contract with outside auditing entities, but the new law enables the board to also establish two BART police oversight entities: an independent police auditor and a citizen review board.” You can see the entire article here.

As I’ve said previously in the post about being videotaped, I have no problem with my actions being documented. What I do have an issue with is a civilian telling me how to do my job. When my water heater breaks down I don’t tell the plumber how I think he should be doing his job. Why? Because I know fuck all about plumbing. I’m relying on the fact that the plumber is sufficiently trained and knows more about his job than me. That’d be why I’m paying him.

You wanna Monday morning quarterback me? Go to the Academy for the five/six month training and learn what it’s like to do my job. Get some experience. Walk a mile in my boots. One of my biggest pet peeves is listening to talking heads or, worse yet, random people on the street that the media interviews talk about how the job should be done. I don’t have an issue with people asking questions in an effort to educate themselves (obviously…that’s why I have the Ask MC posts), but making judgements about what was done based on a very short cell phone video clip is ignorant.

How many times have we heard, “Well, that cop should have shot the gun out of his hand!”? This ain’t Hollywood and it sure as hell isn’t the way we train. Not only is that kind of thinking ridiculous, it’s dangerous. There’s a reason we shoot for center mass, people. It’s the largest part of the body. It always makes me laugh when people say we should shoot someone in the leg or arm. These are people who: a) watch too much TV and b) have never held, let alone shot, a weapon before.

There is a reason every department has an IA division (Internal Affairs). Those folks are cops. They’ve done the job. Are they well liked? Not typically; however, I’d rather be judged by them than by a civilian with no policing experience. I’m not looking for a break from IA because we share the badge, but at least I can be confident that they know what my job entails.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Snark is encouraged. Being a prat is not.

18 thoughts on “Civilian Review Boards

  1. I have to agree that the public at large has no clue how policing really works, they rely on TV shows and other forms of entertainment to tell them "how it is". A a member of the "General public" I freely admit to being clueless as to certain aspects of policing. I've been lucky to have numerous LEO's in my life, so I like to think that I know slightly more than your average Joe I still wouldn't sit on a review board as I know I wouldn't have enough knowledge to accuratly judge police on their actions.


  2. The difference is that, unlike a plumber, people have no choice in police officers. If you don't like a plumber, you can choose another, however, with police – who serve their communities – people have no choice and so they need to have confidence in their service who are there to 'protect and serve.'

    I seriously doubt that the members of any panel would have a full run for themselves. They would most likely be supervised, and their views taken into wider consideration. Anything less would cause outrage.

  3. Hometown has one of these boards, it was started after Hometown P.D. was involved in a controversial shooting.

    A chronically indignant segment of the community was incensed that the shooting occurred and pressed for the formation of the committee.

    Of course the coppers were opposed to it for the same reasons that you have so eloquently stated.

    Of course the politicians that run Hometown were so afraid of the chronically indignant people that they caved and formed the committee.

    Hometown has spent bundles on the committee, spent eons of time forming, running and marketing it and it has served no functional purpose.

    As a taxpayer I am incensed. I'm just not chronically indignant.

    Thanks for the post.

  4. This is totally absurd. They should let IA take care of police involved incidents, that's what they're there for.

  5. It's understandable to want to do your job in peace, and to think that no one knows better than you do how to do it. However, civilian oversight is a very valuable thing. That's the reason that the Commander in Chief is the President.

    Does civilian oversight mean complete civilian control? No. They're not replacing your chief of police with a civilian. It's extremely likely that the civilian oversight will be limited in scope to where the members of the board are competent. It's possible that they'll overstep those bounds…but you'd have to see how it actually goes, not just be paranoid about it before it even starts.

  6. It's one thing for civilians to be in a position where they can ask questions and find out why things are done as they are, another for them to decide how police should do their job. Haven't done it, not in the position to judge it.

  7. What? You mean you can' shoot the gun out of the bad guys hand from 100 ft away?

    What about the guys in the old west with their gunfights? I saw it happen hundreds of times on TV.


    I feel your frustration, really I do..

  8. "This is totally absurd. They should let IA take care of police involved incidents, that's what they're there for."

    Because absolutely nothing can go wrong when you let the watchers watch themselves.

  9. Unfortunately, "sharing the badge" can and does create a major conflict of interest that's readily apparent to anyone over the age of 10.

    I agree that anyone on such a review board must have some quality exposure to real police work as well as a proven lack of bias in either direction.

    The biggest question is how do you come up with a group of individuals who have a sufficient knowledge of policework without ties to the LE community? Requiring regular ride-alongs seems like a good start but I haven't got many ideas other than that…

  10. Q:Did you have to shoot him? Why?
    Q:Why didn't you just shoot the gun out of his hand?
    Q:Can't you just shoot him in the leg?

    and so on. And on.

    I cured Main Lady and her Three Little Darlings of this nonsense by admitting that I couldn't shoot the gun out of someone's hand, and I'm good at shooting.

    I am, too. Just not that good.

    The affect of any civilian review board depends upon the scope of authority the board has and who sits on the board. If the board has no authority, the members will eventually stop meeting, which is what happened in a city near me. Now, if the board has actual authority beyond, say, recommendation to the Chief, then I hope there is at least one member who will demand you teach him or her how to be a policeman. When you think about it, one person like that is all you really need.

  11. Dear Motorcop,
    I'm trying to figure out how to make this palatable to you. Uh uh. Can't be done.

    Instead, I think that there could, just like changed jurisdictions for controversial trials, independent review by other agencies (not reciprocal agreements, however).

    If only somebody would think of that as an SOP a lot of this crap could be prevented.

    Because, no. No civilian is going to understand it. I'm trying, myself, but it's just a pale inkling in a very shadowed world.

    Good luck my friend.
    Ann T.

  12. Andrew…

    Who do you think arrested that f'er? It wasn't an oversight committee.

  13. I don't think someone without experience in policing can sit in judgement. Leave it to the internals. It may not be the perfect solution because there is no perfect solution, but it is probably the fairest.

  14. Police officers are not private sector employees, so the comparison with plumbers is specious.

    Every police department in the United States has a citizen oversight committee. It's called the voting population. If the citizenry decides their police officers should wear green and pink uniforms, they pay the piper, so they call the tune. Any police officer who does not like the dress code is free to seek employment elsewhere.

    Police officers, like members of the military, must always be accountable, ultimately, to the populace. Otherwise, you end up with a situation like Iran, where the police have unlimited power and the populace is powerless.

    As the millennia-old question holds: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Answer: the citizenry.

  15. MC: "Who do you think arrested that f'er? It wasn't an oversight committee."

    And, you miss the point. Yes, eventually this guy was arrested. But the story demonstrates a clear (and perfectly understandable) cop to cop bias. You've written about it, even, at the level of traffic violations.

    I'm not condemning cops for being biased towards other cops: as I said, it's perfectly natural. But it's why external oversight is always necessary.

    It's never comfortable to be the one who's being judged. But to claim that people who can't do something can't have legitimate opinions about it is ludicrous. Being a cop is tough sometimes, I'm sure. But overseeing cops, making sure they follow the rules, is an entirely different skill set. That's not to say it's easy, but it's ridiculous to say that only cops can judge cops.

    People other than former Presidents can have legitimate opinions about Obama's performance. Non-generals can have legitimate stances on the war in Afghanistan.

    In other words…sucks to be you, but deal with it.

  16. MC,

    I often comment on the Rodney King "beating" by saying, "That f'er is lucky to be alive". What the vast majority of the public doesn't know, never saw, and doesn't care about, is the high-speed chase through residential areas and highways. Not to mention the fact that Mr. King pulled the taser barbs out of his own skin, repeatedly refused to comply with commands, attempted numerous times to stand back up, and appeared to be unaffected by the use of force applied by the officers on scene. He wouldn't have been alive, had Sgt. Powell (or one of the other much maligned LAPD officers) not told CHP Officer Singer to holster her weapon. She was going to use, appropriately, deadly force to stop Mr. King from advancing on the officers.

    Where's the Civilian Oversight Committee's loyalty going to fall when another Rodney King incident happens, and the only thing the news media shows is the inflammatory 10-second clip of officers applying physical force to a subject? The news won't explain that the same subject tried to reach for something concealed in their clothing, nor will they explain what the use of force policy actually allows… No, they will show that clip, then a gigantic number of "public reaction" interviews from those same Civilians who know nothing more than what they see on TV.

    I hope BART's oversight committee works to the benefit of the PD, not against. Time will tell.

    A Fire guy who gets it.

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