Civilian Complaint Review Boards

2012-06-05 01:15:12

A civilian review board is a group of citizens who are given responsibility for investigating or reviewing complaints of misconduct by police officers. These groups are responsible for holding police officers accountable to the public.

In most instances civilian review board members are appointed by local government officials. The boards are established through municipal ordinances, state statutes, orders from municipal mayors, popular vote, or less often, by request from police chiefs. Each board is unique in terms of the amount of investigatory power it possesses. Some boards are given the power to subpoena witnesses, to discipline officers, and to access police files. Some of these boards also have the power to conduct evidentiary hearings and investigate allegations of racial profiling. Most civilian review boards, however, do not have investigation powers, and they are restricted to reviewing the internal police investigation. These boards do not have any power to discipline police officers, and they merely make recommendations to police administrators who have the power to reject these recommendations without consequence. In some jurisdictions boards are composed entirely of citizens, whereas others have both police and citizen members.

Many police officers oppose the formulation of civilian review boards, because they believe they are capable of policing themselves. Police officers also oppose civilian review, because they fear that their authority will be reduced, and they believe that they need a veil of secrecy to effectively operate. In addition, many police officers believe that civilians generally lack an understanding of the pressures of law enforcement and should, therefore, not be empowered to second guess the actions of police officers.

Thirty of the fifty largest communities, as well as many smaller cities in the United States, have instituted civilian review boards.


References and Further Reading

  • Best Practices in Police Accountability. A web site dedicated to information and resources on civilian review, www.
  • Civilian Review Sample Model. Available at take_action/download_resources/civilian_review.model. cfm.
  • Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States, a Human Rights Watch Report (1998) available at uspo92.htm.