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Policy Brief #2: Community Oversight of the Police

On March 24, 2012, Pasadena police officers Jeffrey Newlen and Mathew Griffin shot and killed
19-year old Kendrec McDade, an unarmed college student, while responding to a reported
armed robbery. They chased Kendrec for several blocks then fired 7 shots at him, claiming to be
acting in self-defense after being charged at. The Pasadena Police Department investigated
their fellow officers, finding that the officers did not warn Kendrec before shooting him and
then left him on the street critically wounded and twitching without first aid. Both officers
involved in the shooting were cleared of wrongdoing by the police department and the District
Attorney. They continue to serve as Pasadena police officers.

Problem Statement
When police officers brutalize members of the community, its usually left up to their fellow
officers to investigate and decide what, if any, consequences they should face. As a
consequence, nationwide less than 1 in every 12 complaints of police misconduct results in
some kind of disciplinary action against the officer(s) responsible. In some places, police
departments dismiss 99% of all excessive force complaints against officers. Communities need a
meaningful way to determine how police officers and police departments interact with
them. And when the police fail to live up to these expectations, communities need a meaningful
way to ensure they are held accountable.

Policy Overview
Cities should establish an independent Office of Civilian Complaints (OCC) with the resources
and authority to investigate all civilian complaints of police misconduct and make discipline and
policy recommendations to the Chief of Police. Additionally, cities should establish a civilian
Police Commission to oversee the OCC and Police Department with the authority to set
department policy, fire the Police Chief and impose discipline on officers.
The Police Commission should:
Decide policy for the police department.
Discipline and dismiss police officers.
Hold public disciplinary hearings.
Select the candidates for Police Chief, to be hired by the Mayor.
Evaluate and fire the Police Chief, if needed.
Receive full-time, competitive salaries for all members.
Receive regular training on policing and civil rights.
Not have current, former or family of police officers as members.
Have its members selected from candidates offered by community organizations.

Last revised 1.29.15. For more information, please contact @deray or @samswey

The Office of Civilian Complaints should:

Receive, investigate and resolve all civilian complaints against police in 120 days.
Establish multiple in-person and online ways to submit, view and discuss complaints.
Be immediately notified and required to send an investigator to the scene of an
officer-involved shooting or in-custody death.
Access crime scenes, subpoena witnesses and files with penalties for non-compliance.
Make disciplinary and policy recommendations to the Police Chief.
Compel the Police Chief to explain why he/she has not followed a recommendation.
Have the Police Commission decide cases where the Police Chief does not follow
Issue public quarterly reports analyzing complaints, demographics of complainants,
status and findings of investigations and actions taken as a result.
Be housed in a separate location from the police department.
Be funded at an amount no less than 5% of the total police department budget.
Have at least 1 investigator for every 70 police officers or 4 investigators at all times,
whichever is greater.
Have its Director selected from candidates offered by community organizations.
Not have current, former or family of police officers on staff, including the Director.

Why This Policy?

The policy proposed in this brief aims to give communities the greatest amount of oversight
over individual police officers and the broader policies and practices of the police department.
It ensures community leaders have the resources, expertise and guidelines to handle these
responsibilities. This includes the power to enforce cooperation and compliance from the Police
Chief, including the power to unilaterally fire the Chief if necessary. And while the proposed
policy does not require Police Commission members to be elected, as some have demanded,
empowering diverse community organizations to select the candidates who the City Council can
appoint to the Police Commission, as has been done in Miami, may make the Commission more
representative than allowing police associations or unions to influence an election.

Does This Policy Work?

While more research is needed to know how effective civilian oversight systems are at handling
cases of police misconduct, there is some evidence that the model of civilian oversight
recommended by this brief can lead to positive police reforms. San Franciscos civilian oversight
structure, which closely resembles this recommendation, has successfully reformed San
Francisco Police Department policies to require police officers to identify themselves to the
public and improve the way they interact with juveniles, protesters and people who are
mentally ill.
At the same time, this civilian oversight system can be difficult to establish or operate because:
Establishing a civilian oversight system with the power to discipline officers might
violate state law, city charter or existing contracts with police unions. As such, enacting
Last revised 1.29.15. For more information, please contact @deray or @samswey

such a policy may only be possible through a ballot initiative to add this system to the
city charter, like has been done in San Francisco.
Other laws can limit civilian oversight, such as the California Police Officer Bill of Rights
which prevents police disciplinary hearings from being open to the public.
Police may view a strong oversight system with suspicion and resist its mandates,
causing delays in accessing police records and information needed for investigations.
Its expensive to hire quality investigators and policy analysts.
Its rare for investigators to find enough evidence to prove an officer committed

As such, this policy will work best when advanced in combination with other reforms such as
a police body and dashboard camera program in cities where the Chief of Police is either
unwilling or unable to use his existing authority to make changes demanded by the community.

Where Is This Policy Currently Being Implemented?

More than 100 cities, including most major cities, have some kind of civilian oversight of
police. Some civilian review boards only have the power to review the findings of police
investigations into misconduct and make non-binding recommendations. Others
empower civilians to monitor how well police handle their investigations. 1 in 4 civilian
review boards have the power to conduct their own investigations, including New York
City, Oakland and New Orleans.
San Franciscos Police Commission and Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC) empower
civilians to investigate all complaints, recommend policies and practices, and make the
final decisions on these matters as well as hire, evaluate and, if needed, fire the Police
Chief. The OCC also trains officers and mediates disputes between civilians and officers.
St. Louis Alderman Terry Kennedy has proposed a bill to create a civilian oversight
structure with the power to conduct independent investigations and make policy
recommendations, while a weaker model of oversight has been proposed in Ferguson that
lacks the power to independently investigate or review complaints.

Learn More
About different kinds of civilian oversight:,
How to make civilian oversight more accessible:
How effective civilian oversight is:,
How civilian oversight works in San Francisco:

Last revised 1.29.15. For more information, please contact @deray or @samswey

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