Civilian Review Boards

Civilian Review Boards

A municipal body composed of citizen representatives charged with the investigation of complaints by members of the public concerning misconduct by police officers. Such bodies may be independent agencies or part of a law enforcement agency.

Generally, the power of a civilian review board is restricted to reviewing an already completed internal police investigation, and commenting on it to the Chief of Police. Citizen review boards have not been very effective at causing reform, as they are often co-opted by the police department whose investigations they are supposed to review, and thus wind up agreeing with the police department in almost all instances.

Some of the newer civilian review board models, however, provide board members with investigatory as well as review authority. Some of these models contemplate that the board will conduct parallel investigations to supplement the internal affairs investigations. In a few localities, the review board has subpoena power and can force a police officer to testify. A few jurisdictions even grant sole investigatory power to their civilian review boards. But it is very rare for a civilian review board to have the final say as to the disposition of an investigation or discipline to be imposed on an officer. These ultimate decisions generally continue to be the province of the chief of police. Nonetheless, all civilian review boards with independent investigatory authority seem to have the power to make recommendations to the chief on disposition and discipline.

Further readings

Goldsmith, Andrew J., and Colleen Lewis. 2000. Civilian Oversight of Policing: Governance, Democracy, and Human Rights. Portland, Ore.: Hart Pub.

References in periodicals archive ?
In that 1994 report, The Research Bureau said the evidence at that time suggested that civilian review boards do not sustain complaints at a higher level than review mechanisms internal to the police department.
Lukes, who resurrected the idea of a civilian review board in the wake of a police officer's arrest earlier this month in which he was accused of assaulting a 48-year-old man in a cell room at police headquarters.
The same can be said for Civilian Review Boards (CRBs).
Some cities and counties use an ombudsman, commonly referred to as an auditor; others have commissions, also called civilian review boards.
Prior to September 11, struggles against police brutality had been most effective on the local level in raising public consciousness of institutionalized racism and engendering small reforms, such as civilian review boards.
Although the literature about civilian review boards is mixed, most cities seem very satisfied with such an approach.
In its report, The Research Bureau said the evidence at that time suggested that civilian review boards do not sustain complaints at a higher level than review mechanisms internal to the police department.
Civilian review boards can pose problems, but the city can design its new internal review process to address them.
In our judgment,'' the Christopher Commission said, ``the tension between the need for public accountability and the apparent failure of civilian review boards to perform effectively is best resolved by using the already existing Police Commission actively to oversee and audit the disciplinary system.
As a result, politicians and community groups push for the use of civilian oversight committees and civilian review boards to handle citizen complaints.
Citizens often propose civilian review boards following incidents that involve the use of excessive force.
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