To promote sound policing and accountability, states and localities should consider developing and maintaining formal external oversight entities to:
- (a) elevate the values, concerns, and community-safety priorities of the public, particularly in communities most impacted by policing, so that these views can inform decisions relating to sound policing and accountability;
- (b) increase transparency and understanding of policing policies, practices, outcomes, and decisions;
- (c) facilitate the development of policing policies and practices that are effective, consistent with sound policing, and reflective of the values and priorities of communities, including those most impacted by policing; and
- (d) provide independent evaluation of policing policies, practices, incidents, and disciplinary decisions to determine whether they are consistent with sound policing and accountability.
a. External oversight entities. This Section covers formal, government-established entities that provide ongoing oversight of policing agencies independent of the agencies themselves. Generally created via local charter or ordinance, these entities include: police commissions; civilian/community oversight boards; inspectors general or auditors; and boards focused on particular topics (such as law enforcement use of surveillance technology). This Section does not address external oversight entities that have no formal government backing or relationship with the agencies they oversee (such as copwatching programs), entities that serve solely an advisory function or include members selected solely by the police chief (such as community advisory boards), nor those that are internal to the policing agency (such as internal affairs bureaus). This Section also does not address ad hoc commissions or task forces, whether created to evaluate an agency, incident, or the state of policing in general, or criminal investigations or prosecutions of officers. Agency review of significant adverse incidents and patterns of incidents is addressed in § 13.08. Criminal investigations of officers are addressed in § 14.12.
b. Purposes of external oversight. Historically, governments tend to create external oversight agencies when members of the public lose confidence in a policing agency’s ability to hold itself or its officers accountable to community standards. However, even agencies that are not in crisis and that maintain internal supervision, discipline, and incident-review systems, as discussed in Chapter 13, may not have the objectivity, latitude, incentives, or breadth of perspective to facilitate sound policing on their own. Localities thus should consider whether external oversight may promote sound policing in the jurisdiction.
Research into the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of external oversight is limited. Rather than recommending any particular form of oversight, this Section sets out the purposes that external oversight might serve and identifies characteristics and conditions that may facilitate external oversight, whatever its form. In considering whether, and what types of, external oversight might meet a jurisdiction’s needs, jurisdictions should recognize that external oversight alone will not ensure sound policing. Rather, external oversight may serve as one component of a jurisdiction’s overall efforts to secure sound policing.
As set out in this Section, oversight bodies can serve a variety of functions. Jurisdictions should choose the type, responsibilities, and authority of external oversight bodies with care. An entity is unlikely to be successful if its mission is unclear or it is not given the resources and tools to fulfill that mission. When a jurisdiction decides to establish more than one oversight entity, it should strive to ensure the functions of the entities are complementary so as to minimize unnecessary bureaucracy and redundancy.
- (1). Elevating perspectives of impacted communities. Oversight entities for policing agencies, like other formal bodies in a democracy, may facilitate public participation and incorporate outside expertise or review. Entities that provide external oversight of policing should be especially attentive to elevating the perspectives of those most in need of sound policing and those who disproportionately suffer policing’s negative effects. These individuals and communities may be politically marginalized and thus underrepresented in other means of governing the police.
- External oversight entities can serve this function by recruiting members and staff from underrepresented communities and by directing individuals experienced in outreach to solicit values, concerns, and priorities from a broad swath of the public, including impacted communities. Once an entity identifies these insights and perspectives, it can memorialize and convey them to the public and to public officials through publications, meetings, and public forums, and evaluate whether existing agency directives and practices adequately address them. In this way, external oversight agencies may align policing policies and practices more closely with the values and priorities of the communities they serve.
- (2). Increasing transparency. Communities cannot govern policing meaningfully if they lack access to agency policies, data about officer activities, and information about the impact of police activities. Without such access, the public does not have a full understanding of the standards to which an officer should be held accountable, or how well individual officers or the agency as a whole measures up. External oversight entities can promote agency transparency by collecting, analyzing, publicizing, and explaining data about police practices and outcomes; publicly reporting the findings of their evaluations of agency systems, practices, and incidents; and explaining agency rules and directives. Section 1.05 addresses the connection between transparency and accountability more broadly. Section 14.10 considers in greater depth the specific role of other actors in ensuring appropriate data collection, and public access to that information.
- (3). Providing independent and informed guidance. Because external oversight entities are independent from policing agencies, their members and staff are likely to have different perspectives and incentives than those who work within agencies. Entities also may have access to broader experience and expertise, both through the members and staff, and through outreach to communities. These elements of external oversight can be useful in promoting policies and practices that address a full range of public concerns and priorities, including those easily overlooked or ignored. For example, external oversight entities can be structured to identify police practices that most negatively affect a community; evaluate the practices to determine whether and how they can be changed; propose policy and training interventions to implement new practices; and confer with stakeholders, including community members and officers, about their recommendations.
- (4). Evaluating practices and incidents. The independence and differing incentives of external oversight bodies may result in more objective and critical investigations and evaluations of police practices and incidents than those conducted internally. External oversight entities may be less invested in an existing practice than a policing agency, and they do not face the same pressures and conflicting interests as internal actors when assessing officer conduct or recommending discipline. As a result, entities that are adequately trained, empowered, and resourced may promote officer and agency accountability and community trust in ways that agencies alone cannot.
c. Characteristics of external oversight entities. Existing external oversight entities vary substantially in their roles and powers. Traditional civilian-review boards review agency investigations of officer misconduct when citizens complain or, sometimes, carry out misconduct investigations. Today, external oversight entities also are being empowered to evaluate agency practices and to weigh in on new policies or the hiring of chiefs. Some entities participate in police budgeting and priority-setting.
Oversight entities also differ in how they are structured. Members may be elected or appointed by mayors, and sometimes the members are from targeted communities or groups. Some entities, such as inspectors general and police auditors, hire experts and focus on systemic oversight responsibilities, even if they also have incident-specific responsibilities.
No single structure or scope of oversight will serve all communities. Nevertheless, whatever its form, an external oversight entity is unlikely to fulfill its intended mission unless it is independent, legitimate, resourced, and transparent. Rather than promote sound policing, an unsuccessful external oversight entity may reduce community confidence in the police and the government. For this reason, jurisdictions should attend to these characteristics when developing and maintaining external oversight entities.
External oversight entities should be independent from the agencies they oversee. To generate independence, jurisdictions should avoid formal and informal constraints on the entity that could undermine its objectivity or give police officials or political actors undue influence or control over its decisionmaking.
External oversight entities should act in ways that build public trust and legitimacy between an agency and stakeholders, including underrepresented members of the public. Independence may help promote this legitimacy. So may including members from a cross-section of the public. When an oversight body takes the form of an auditor or professional monitor, and therefore is not a multiple-member body, jurisdictions should consider other means of incorporating community participation within the organization, such as hiring community members and leaders as staff, or having a regularized process of obtaining community input. Regardless of community representation within the entity, external oversight entities also should be intentional and consistent about learning from the communities they serve through individual outreach, public forums, and other means.
External oversight entities require adequate support to be successful. Jurisdictions should provide an oversight entity with a clear legislative mandate, one that communicates to stakeholders the scope of the entity’s authority. An entity also should be given ongoing financial, political, and practical support necessary to pursue its mission. External oversight entities require staff, office space, and training. An oversight entity may need access to agency data, including information systems, incident reports, and officer records. It might need access to agency personnel, including cooperation from command staff and officers, to assess incidents or practices or to offer recommendations on policies. Some oversight entities may need to observe trainings, to watch disciplinary hearings, or to view the scenes of officer uses of force or alleged misconduct. Others may need subpoena power or directives to the policing agency that ensure full cooperation with the oversight entity. Without adequate initial and ongoing support, oversight is likely to be illusory. Oversight entities also should have the authority and capacity to inform the public about their work and internal processes and report findings to the public. Oversight entities also should collect and make public sufficient data concerning their activities to enable the community to assess whether an entity is achieving its intended objectives.
As this Section suggests, communities struggle to develop and maintain effective external oversight entities for police departments. Such entities come in many forms, and it can be difficult to choose among them. Communities sometimes fail to give oversight entities adequate authority or resources, and they may face legal constraints in designing effective oversight entities. Even well-designed, well-supported entities may be plagued by unrealistic expectations, problematic relationships with the agency they oversee, and institutional deficiencies.
Designing external oversight. Although oversight bodies have been around for decades, communities will find little social-science research to help them choose among possible forms or design effective entities. Until more research is available, communities should gather information about the various options in external oversight entities and then consider which form or forms might best meet the jurisdiction’s needs. See Joseph De Angelis, Richard Rosenthal & Brian Buchner, Off. of Just. Programs, Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement: Assessing the Evidence 52 (2016) (recommending that jurisdictions focus on “best-fit” rather than “best practices” when considering how to structure external police-oversight structures).
In designing oversight bodies, communities should consider that oversight entities vary in character. Some entities focus exclusively on either front-end or back-end oversight. Barry Friedman & Maria Ponomarenko, Democratic Policing, 90 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 1827, 1877 (2015) (distinguishing between “front-end” and “back-end” accountability). When an entity engages in front-end oversight, it provides input on policing directives (for example, laws, rules, and policies) and practices before they are put into place, and it often aims to increase public participation in the development of these policies and practices. See Maria Ponomarenko, Rethinking Police Rulemaking, 114 Nw. U. L. Rev. 1, 45-50 (2019) (proposing greater use of front-end “regulatory intermediaries” like police commissions to provide broader governance around how police decisions are made); Front-End Voice in Policing, Policing Project, https://www.policingproject.org/front-end-landing (last visited Nov. 11, 2021) (describing front-end accountability as requiring “robust, direct engagement between police and community members . . . to ensure that policing truly reflects community priorities and values”). By contrast, entities engaging in back-end oversight may assess whether officers or agencies followed policies and other directives, and they may evaluate the impact of policies or practices already in place. See Michael Vitoroulis, Cameron McEllhiney, & Liana Perez, Cmty. Oriented Policing Servs., U.S. Dep’t of Just., The Evolution and Growth of Civilian Oversight: Key Principles and Practices for Effectiveness and Sustainability 7-10 (2021), https://cops.usdoj.gov/RIC/Publications/cops-w0951-pub.pdf (discussing “review-focused” and “investigation-focused” oversight models, both of which focus on investigating or adjudicating complaints about officer conduct); Debra Livingston, The Unfulfilled Promise of Citizen Review,1 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 653, 655 (2003) (describing limitations of citizen review boards’ “focus on the retrospective investigation of complaints as a principal mechanism for rooting out officer malfeasance and enhancing the performance of police”).
Front-end and back-end oversight may each improve police legitimacy and accountability in different ways. Front-end oversight promotes higher quality and increased legitimacy of police practices by facilitating broader input and expertise from the outset and by putting in place policies and systems that prevent police harm from occurring. Back-end oversight can increase police legitimacy and deter future police harm by ensuring that officers are held accountable for misconduct more consistently and fairly than internal agency mechanisms are likely to achieve on their own.
Relatedly, some oversight entities focus on systemic features of policing (for example, an agency’s policies and practices related to domestic-violence calls); others examine particular police incidents (for example, the handling of complaints of discrete instances of misconduct, such as a particular police shooting or a police agency’s response to a protest). See Livingston, The Unfulfilled Promise of Citizen Review, supra at 654 (contrasting “problem oriented” oversight with “rule enforcement” oversight). Incident- or enforcement-focused oversight may provide insight into what went wrong in a given adverse instance and may promote officer accountability by ensuring each incident is thoroughly and objectively evaluated. Oversight with a more systemic or problem-solving focus may have a broader impact by identifying agency dynamics that contribute to ongoing patterns of harmful police conduct. Ponomarenko, Rethinking Police Rulemaking, supra at 45-46; Walker, supra, at 135-136. Federal oversight bodies are not addressed in this principle, which confines itself to community-based oversight. Nevertheless, federal inspectors general serve as examples of systemic oversight in that they conduct independent audits and investigations relation to agency programs and operations to identify inefficiency and abuse within agencies. By contrast, the most traditional form of external oversight—a review board authorized only to investigate and/or review police investigations of complaints about officer misconduct—acts solely as a back-end, incident-based form of oversight. Walker, supra at 36-38, 135; Livingston, The Unfulfilled Promise of Citizen Review, supra, at 654-661. Police auditors or monitors are generally viewed as taking a more systemic and, often, front-end approach. Vitoroulis, The Evolution and Growth of Civilian Oversight, supra, at 7 (contrasting review- and investigation-focused models as typically focused on individual complaints, and auditor/monitor-focused model as “all focused on large-scale systemic law enforcement reform”); Samuel Walker, The New World of Police Accountability 135 (2005) (discussing the focus on “organizational change” rather than investigation of “individual complaints” as the “crucial aspect” of the police auditor).
Oversight entities may include both back-end and front-end oversight, and both systemic and incident-level review. The New Orleans Independent Police Monitor, for example, conducts prospective reviews of police practices and issues reports with recommendations; responds to the scenes of critical incidents and then reviews the investigations of those incidents; regularly meets with community groups; and runs a misconduct-complaint mediation program. Jessica Williams, New Orleans Independent Police Monitor Gets Good Marks from Review Panel, Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advoc.(July, 28, 2019), https://www.nola.com/news/crime_police/article_ba475272-ae54-11e9-b590-df8dc09b6dac.html; The New Orleans Independent Police Monitor, Off. of the Orleans Indep. Police Monitor, https://nolaipm.gov/ (last visited Nov. 11, 2021). Increasingly, communities are expanding the authority of entities formed to conduct incident review, allowing them to analyze department policies and procedures and make recommendations based on that analysis. Vitoroulis, The Evolution and Growth of Civilian Oversight, supra, at 7.
Empowering oversight entities to conduct front-end, systemic oversight may not be enough to ensure that oversight elevates the perspectives of impacted communities. The Seattle Community Police Commission is comprised of 21 community representatives and employs specific selection criteria to ensure broad geographic representation and diversity of perspective. The Commission is required to hold public meetings at least once per month and to provide recommendations on a broad swath of organizational concerns, from recruiting and promotional practices, to training and accountability. Seattle, Wash., Ordinance 125315 (2017). Similarly, Chicago’s primary front-end oversight efforts include both a Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, with members appointed by the mayor, and district councils elected by residents of each police district. The seven-member commission has the authority to draft and approve policies for the police department and to nominate candidates to head the police department, while the district councils work with and advise the commission about community concerns. Chicago Passes Legislation to Create a Community Oversight Board for Public Safety, Policing Project (July 31, 2021), https://www.policingproject.org/news-main/2021/7/31/chicago-passes-legislation-to-create-a-community-oversight-board-for-public-safety.
Some communities are adopting a new, narrower form of oversight in which the entity focuses on a single policing issue. The Oakland, California, Standing Privacy Advisory Commission is one such body. Privacy Advisory Commission, City of Oakland, https://www.oaklandca.gov/boards-commissions/privacy-advisory-board (last visited Nov. 11, 2021). Subject-based entities emphasize front-end, systemic function, but may also be tasked with back-end systemic and specific oversight. The Oakland Privacy Commission, for instance, evaluates both the acquisition and uses of certain technologies. See Oakland, Cal., Ordinance No. 13349 (2015) (stating that the commission will “provide advice and technical assistance on best practices to protect privacy concerns in the City’s use of surveillance equipment and other technology that collects or stores citizen data”).
Although research is limited, commentators generally agree that an external-oversight body is unlikely to succeed if it is not: independent from the agency it is overseeing; legitimate in the eyes of the public; adequately resourced and supported; given access to the information, people, and places necessary to fulfill its mandate; and transparent to the community and agency. See also Joseph De Angelis, Richard Rosenthal & Brian Buchner, Off. of Just. Programs, Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement: Assessing the Evidence 36 (2016) (detailing 12 core elements of successful oversight: independence; adequate jurisdictional authority; unfettered access to records; access to law-enforcement executives and internal-affairs staff; full cooperation; support of process stakeholders; adequate resources; public reporting or transparency; pattern analysis; community outreach; community involvement; respect for confidentiality requirements); Samuel Walker, The New World of Police Accountability 168-169 (2005) (identifying similar principles as being essential for an effective police auditor’s office).
External oversight often is undermined by the failure of policymakers to provide the resources necessary for the entity to carry out the tasks it has been assigned. For example, an agency composed of part-time volunteers or limited staff may be unable to fulfill its mandate to investigate every misconduct complaint. To limit their workloads, some entities have created artificial barriers to access, for example, by requiring complainants to sign sworn affidavits, rejecting anonymous complaints, or refusing to investigate older complaints. See, e.g., U.S. Dep’t of Just., Investigation of the Chicago Police Department 47 (2017). Similarly, to speed resolution of complaints, entities have sometimes misused valid oversight tools, such as mediation, in a manner that undermines both the effectiveness of oversight and public confidence. See, e.g., id. at 50, 54-56. Overwhelmed oversight agencies may even fail to investigate the most serious incidents, severely undermining entity effectiveness and public confidence. Kelly Davis, Police Oversight Group Set to Dismiss 22 Death Cases Without Investigation, Voice of San Diego (Nov. 13, 2017), https://www.voiceofsandiego.org/topics/public-safety/police-oversight-group-set-dismiss-22-death-cases-without-investigation/ (reporting an oversight entity’s unnecessary dismissal of 22 in-custody death cases amidst internal turmoil and a “growing backlog” of death cases). Communities can help avoid these dynamics by making available resources to hire sufficient numbers of qualified staff and ensuring that those staff are well trained in policing and oversight.
Jurisdictions also may hamstring entities from the outset by failing to give them sufficient authority to fulfill their mission. For example, some believe that an agency without the power to subpoena officers may not be able to credibly, robustly investigate incidents of alleged misconduct. See Community Oversight Paves the Road to Police Accountability, Nat’l Ass’n for Civilian Oversight of L. Enf’t, https://www.nacole.org/community_oversight_paves_the_road_to_police_accountability (last visited Nov. 11, 2021) (asserting that localities should give oversight entities broad subpoena authority to “empower” them and make oversight meaningful). But see Should the Oversight Entity Have Subpoena Power?, Nat’l Ass’n for Civilian Oversight of L. Enf’t, https://www.nacole.org/subpoena_power (last visited Nov. 11, 2021) (“If you are able [to] include subpoena power in the agency’s enabling legislation, by all means, include it. If you are unable to, this is not a roadblock to effective civilian oversight.”).
Even if an oversight entity has sufficient authority on paper, official intransigence or informal norms can undermine its effectiveness. In Chicago, for example, the mayor rejected all three candidates nominated by the Chicago’s Police Commission for police superintendent, though the oversight body was charged with selecting candidates, and the mayor was required to choose from among them. Fran Spielman & Frank Main, Rahm’s Surprise Top Cop Pick—a Sun Times Exclusive, Chi. Sun Times (Mar. 27, 2016 8:21 PM), https://chicago.suntimes.com/2016/3/27/18360746/rahm-s-surprise-top-cop-pick-a-sun-times-exclusive. In other cities, police agencies ignore reasoned oversight entity findings regarding incidents or recommendations made, after careful evaluation, about policing practices. See Nicole Dungca & Jenn Abelson, When Communities Try to Hold Police Accountable, Law Enforcement Fights Back, Wash. Post (Apr. 27, 2021), https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/interactive/2021/civilian-oversight-police-accountability/ (describing an instance in which a police chief sought to overturn an oversight entity’s recommendation by appealing to the city council). When officials casually dismiss credible findings or sound recommendations of a legitimate oversight agency, they compromise the entity’s ability to fulfill its function, and they undermine its credibility and efficacy. Jurisdictions should ensure that oversight entities are granted the authority they need to fulfill their mandate. Officials in the jurisdiction should respect decisions when they are required to do so, and take seriously other findings and recommendations by oversight bodies.
External oversight entities also respond to stakeholders with conflicting interests and perspectives. If they get too close to some, they risk losing legitimacy in the eyes of others. For example, external oversight entities may so thoroughly adopt the incentives of the police agencies they oversee that they are no longer viewed as truly independent or representative of other values and perspectives. See David Cho, et al., Restoring Public Confidence: Recommendations for Improving Oversight of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department10 (describing a critique of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Office of Independent Review as not being truly objective because it was not truly independent of the agency). Entities viewed as “captured” in this way quickly lose public trust. On the other end of the spectrum, an external oversight entity may, legitimately or otherwise, be viewed by the police agency as having a bias against the police agency or otherwise being unable to carry out its responsibilities fairly and competently. This view may lead officers, command staff, and public officials to resist the entity’s processes, findings, and recommendations. Jurisdictions can help equip oversight entities to balance these competing pressures effectively. They might, for example, on one hand, ensure structural independence and, on the other, require that oversight officials and staff receive training in policing practices and challenges and maintain regular communication with the policing agency.
State and local law and collective-bargaining agreements may generate legal obstacles to effective oversight. In extreme cases, localities are prohibited by state law or union contract from requiring civilian oversight of law enforcement. See Va. Code Ann. § 9.1-601 (West) (allowing police departments to establish civilian oversight bodies but excluding sheriff’s offices from being subject to civilian oversight); Nicole Dungca & Jenn Abelson, When Communities Try to Hold Police Accountable, Law Enforcement Fights Back, Wash. Post (Apr. 27, 2021), https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/interactive/2021/civilian-oversight-police-accountability/ (noting that a police union contract in New Bedford, Massachusetts, includes a clause that states, “There will be no Civilian Review Boards in the New Bedford Police Department”). In other jurisdictions, limitations on making public certain information about officer discipline may deny oversight entities access to information essential to their mission. See, e.g., Oakland Police Officers’ Ass’n v. City of Oakland, 277 Cal. Rptr. 3d 750, 753 (Cal. Ct. App. 2021), as modified on denial of reh’g (May 13, 2021), review denied (July 28, 2021) (holding that agencies do not have an obligation to disclose confidential material pending investigation). In still others, state law may prohibit civilian oversight entities from exercising subpoena power. Rebecca Panico, N.J. Supreme Court on Wrong Side of History for Stripping Civilian Police Board of Subpoena Power, Activists Say, NJ.com (Aug. 21, 2020 12:12 AM), https://www.nj.com/essex/2020/08/nj-supreme-court-on-wrong-side-of-history-for-stripping-civilian-police-board-of-subpoena-power-activists-say.html. Securing external oversight thus may require a multi-step, multi-year process, starting with making changes at the state level.
Smaller jurisdictions face distinctive challenges when they consider external oversight. Half of all law-enforcement agencies in the United States have fewer than 10 officers. Mark Berman, Most Police Departments in America are Small. That’s Partly Why Changing Policing is Difficult, Experts Say., Wash. Post (May 8, 2021 4:59 PM), https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/05/08/most-police-departments-america-are-small-thats-partly-why-changing-policing-is-difficult-experts-say/. A small jurisdiction may not have enough funding or complaints to justify hiring a police auditor or establishing a civilian review board on its own. Still, it may choose to establish a more limited version of oversight through a small commission or committee. Alternatively, smaller jurisdictions may be able to pool resources with surrounding communities to create multijurisdictional oversight entities. More research is needed on oversight options for smaller jurisdictions, and federal and state actors should consider whether external support for oversight in small jurisdictions is appropriate.
Even when a community has carefully selected the form of oversight entity that best suits its objectives (within any legal constraints) and has ensured that the elements essential to success are in place, external oversight entities’ perceived success may be hampered by unrealistic stakeholder expectations. Community members may not understand the limits of an entity’s design and therefore may feel betrayed when the entity does not achieve objectives outside its reach. Or community members may assume that an oversight entity can compensate for elected officials, judges, and others who fail in their obligations to govern policing in the manner other Sections in this Chapter underscore. External oversight also cannot take the place of broader community efforts to reduce the harms of policing, including efforts to achieve public safety through actors other than police. See § 14.09.
In addition, oversight entities face some of the same obstacles to generating effective police accountability as policing agencies themselves do. For example, even a thorough investigation often cannot generate sufficient evidence to resolve a factual dispute over an incident of alleged misconduct. Individuals involved in external oversight may suffer the same biases, both implicit and explicit, that can unfairly skew decisions by officers. Community hostility and unmanageable workloads can compromise investigations and policy audits and make it difficult to retain good staff in both policing agencies and oversight entities. Communities should recognize that establishing external oversight does not resolve all of these problems; rather, it creates a different, possibly more favorable, environment in which to seek accountability and to attempt to mitigate these longstanding challenges to police accountability.
Jurisdictions also can help mitigate unrealistic expectations of external oversight entities by engaging in inclusive planning when developing oversight. See President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing 26 (May 2015) (recommending that civilian oversight be established in accordance with the needs of the community and with input from local law-enforcement stakeholders). Some communities have used working groups and task forces successfully to assess community oversight priorities and identify oversight forms best suited to those objectives. See, e.g., U.S. Dep’t of Just., Investigation of the New Orleans Police Department 113-114 (Mar. 16, 2011). Incorporating stakeholders in early planning can help avoid some pitfalls in developing external oversight, and may at least prepare oversight advocates for the work ahead. Jurisdictions also may manage expectations by evaluating in detail how proposed oversight entities will carry out each oversight objective and what resources are likely to be necessary to fulfill their mission.
External oversight of policing agencies is made more difficult because little evidence exists about which approaches to oversight are successful, and which are not. Without tools to evaluate oversight entities, communities cannot easily replicate the success of others or revise or discontinue ineffective models. Without evidence, politics rather than effectiveness may determine whether an oversight agency continues or dies, and communities may waste resources and undermine community trust with ill-fated oversight efforts. See, e.g., Betsy Graef, The Seattle Community Police Commission: Lessons Learned and Considerations for Effective Community Involvement, 14 Seattle J. for Social Just. 1, X (2016). To promote evaluation, jurisdictions should require oversight entities to collect and make public information about their work, and, when possible, should partner with researchers and experts to assess oversight effectiveness. See § 14.11.
Finally, communities and local governments should recognize that effective external oversight of policing is challenging and that community conditions constantly change. Communities should commit to evaluating entities and revising oversight bodies that are not working as intended. Although it is possible to undermine oversight by changing its structure and entities too frequently, communities adhering to moribund systems, rather than developing something new, are more likely to damage their ability to achieve their oversight goals.