A Friend sent in this analysis of how an oversight group might bring some accountability to the police department.
A Civilian Oversight Group for Fullerton
“Civilian Oversight” refers to the ongoing monitoring of police activities with a view toward holding each police officer accountable for the services they provide, with the people they serve, (both good and bad) as well as the policies the police force operate under. Effective civilian oversight and influence of police is essential to ensure that the police force uses its powers and authority in a manner reflecting respect for law and individual rights and freedoms
A review of literature written about this subject suggests the single most important element in law enforcement is accountability. Holding individual police officers and law enforcement agencies accountable for their actions provides for lawfulness and legitimacy in policing, Citizen oversight groups occupy a unique niche in the law enforcement community. They are often lauded by citizens, avoided be government officials, and opposed by the police departments they seek to monitor. Due to the close working relationships between city officials and prosecutors have with police it can be troublesome for these individuals to pursue a police oversight program as it can damage cooperative partnerships with law enforcement personnel.
Citizens however are highly motivated to become part of the police oversight process. Being a member of an oversight group allows citizens to have their voices heard in what is a closed investigation and sanctioning process. Citizens have become disillusioned with the oversight process because civilian groups rarity have a sufficient level of power and facilitate change in the police agencies they oversee. Without the cooperation of the police agencies or mandated power from city officials oversight groups are held to playing a minor , advisory role in the investigation of police misconduct.
One of the main reasons for this is the strong opposition put forth by rank and file police officers as well as the labor unions that represent them. These groups see civilian oversight groups as untrained outsiders that are unable to objectively and effectively investigate incidents of police misconduct.
In order to increase their ability to produce the desired results, citizens’ oversight groups must continue their efforts and to remain visible in the communities they serve. For well established groups this means for providing an easy to find resource for individuals mistreated by the police. For newer or unsanctioned oversight groups visibility is crucial is a first step toward giving legitimacy both in their community as well as in the political landscape of the city.
The composition an oversight group is also an important factor in building a strong profile. It is important to have a well spoken and diverse membership base that communicates both strength and compassion to individuals and communities dealing with abuse of police power.
On July 11, 2012 there will be a meeting in the library to discuss the benefits of a civilian oversight group for the city of Fullerton. In about a month there will be a planning meeting for this civilian oversight group. See you there!