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Citizen Oversight of Law Enforcement: Challenge and Opportunity

NCJ Number
Police Chief Volume: 70 Issue: 10 Dated: October 2003 Pages: 22,24,26,28,29
Joe Farrow; Trac Pham
Date Published
October 2003
5 pages
This article discusses the issue of citizen oversight of law enforcement practices.
The controversial issue of citizen oversight of police practices is defined as a procedure under which law enforcement conduct is reviewed at some point by persons that are not sworn officers. More and more law enforcement jurisdictions have involved citizens in the review systems. On one side of the debate are those that assert that internal review and control is the only way to manage the problem of misconduct. They argue that the involvement of citizens without knowledge of law enforcement procedures and legal limitations will disrupt the process. Those on the other side argue that under democratic systems of checks and balances, law enforcement agencies should not be left to judge themselves. The maintenance of administrative integrity and confidentiality must be weighed against the need for openness in the review process. Three-fourths of the largest cities in the United States have established some form of citizen law enforcement review. Developing community, especially minority community, confidence that law enforcement will be held accountable for its actions is important. The central question for law enforcement concerns the best type of citizen review board. There is no perfect review system and no one system can answer the concerns of all interested groups equally. Unfortunately, most review boards have come into existence as the aftermath of a highly publicized and emotionally charged incident of alleged police misconduct. As a result, some law enforcement administrators have been proactive in taking preventive steps to avert potential tension and conflict. The ideal compromise system should leave complaint investigations to law enforcement professionals, subject to ultimate citizen review as needed. The system should allow great latitude to the law enforcement professional and subcultural structure for dealing with complaints. The final implementation of discipline should be left to the chief. Citizen review systems and law enforcement departments will not be effective unless they are populated by honest and diligent people. Law enforcement leadership is the primary key to police officer accountability. 6 endnotes