Friday, November 6, 2009

How A Citizen Review Board Starts

It may not be easy, but neither is jail time for a crime you did not commit, or paying a fine on a trumped up charge, or submitting to a roadside search when you are not guilty of the pretext. Let’s face it, even if you were speeding, it is a bit harder to take when you know police trickery was involved, and trickery cannot substitute for transparency, nor can it justify its use. I personally prefer all things honest and above board with my daily acquaintances and friends, but from my paid law enforcement employees---I demand it. I refuse to be a cash cow for my town. So how does a CRB start? Sadly, it begins with indignant outrage.

Why did we hire cops in the first place and for what purpose?
Well, there are always jobs we won’t want to do or just can’t do. I can’t pave the road, but the city can and does. I don’t want to replace downed power lines during an ice storm, but the power company does. The method for getting these things done is public demand. Same thing with tracking and arresting bad guys. Let’s put this into perspective though. Crime is a 24 hour a day profession, which calls for 24 hour a day crime prevention. Hence, cops. We put out the call for honest citizens to do a specific job for us. We never asked a member of our community to become an elitist, arrogant, jaw-jutting jerk who believes he owns us. So what happened? How did one become the other? It is not a product of our generation, just watch some old 30’s and 40’s movies. It is not unique to the USA, just read history from places outside of North America. No, it is a bi-product of being human. Problem here is, the citizen let it happen. None of us saw the need for a CRB back in the day though, because we wanted cops to do the job, but not accept the other end of the dirty stick when cops go bad. We collectively turned a blind eye.

The cop who does nothing, does nothing wrong
Does this make sense to you? It does to cops. While cops all valiantly agree about the “protect and serve” motto, it really only applies to them and their fellow cops. In the event of a citizen being in danger, the first thought from a cop is if he personally will be put in any danger. If so, the citizen is on his own. And if the citizen dies or is injured, the cop who did nothing has no fault on his conscience whatsoever. He didn’t protect and he didn’t serve, but no matter. BTW, this also applies to a cop merely looking bad or embarrassed, without any physical damage. We have all heard their repetitive mantra, “officer safety, officer safety, officer safety”. It seems to be up there with “So help me God” when they take the oath. Plenty of emphasis in the voice, loaded with confident self-righteousness. (Read a couple oaths in a previous post.)

Outrage Becomes Frustration 
OK, so we all get angry, get out our pitchforks and torches, and we march on City Hall. Some underpaid accessory to the big-wig is sent out to mollify the crowd and tells them that all will be fine and to disperse. So we go home and wait for more police abuse, after which we get out the torches and pitchforks again. Eventually, when nothing changes, We The People start to question the effectiveness and timeliness of the Mayor, or City Council, or whatever form of government is used where you live. So we fire up the torches again. We absolutely must take the matter into our own hands and create a body to watch over the police body we created before, which will have to be watched over by a legislative body to avoid abuse, etc, etc, etc. See the circle they have taught us to run in? Let’s break the habit now.

According to the ACLU,
The three basic types of civilian review systems are —
  • Type I. Persons who are not sworn officers conduct the initial fact-finding. They submit an investigative report to a non-officer or board of non-officers, who then make a recommendation for action to the police chief. This process is the most independent and most "civilian."
  • Type II. Sworn officers conduct the initial fact-finding. They submit an investigative report to a non-officer or board of non-officers for a recommendation.
  • Type III. Sworn officers conduct the initial fact-finding and make a recommendation to the police chief. If the aggrieved citizen is not satisfied with the chief's action on the complaint, he or she may appeal to a board that includes non-officers. Obviously, this process is the least independent. 

Although the above are the most common, other types of civilian review systems also exist.

OK, fine. I think we have all seen examples of all three styles of CRB’s. But after so many years of these CRB’s with no tangible changes in our PD’s away from the problems we face today, isn’t it time for a different, citizen-based system? Notice that all three systems above use the words “sworn officer”, with two out of the three identifying the “sworn officer” as the guy running the show? That should give us a clue. I agree with my new acquaintance from Fresno CA, who said he was “burned out” trying to get anything going in his town, with years of work yielding only a powerless shadow of representation for the citizen. The standard and tried channels that have been used for many years are programmed to fail, much to the delight of those who stand to lose their ill-gotten gains. Let's do better.

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