Monday, October 03, 2005

Police Review Boards?

Since the Times- Standard, for the second day in a row, didn't deliver our paper today, I had to settle for re- reading the Sunday Eureka Reporter while eating breakfast. Noticed an item I didn't catch yesterday on some new coalition formed to establish civilian review boards called the Coalition For Police Review. Oddly, that story wasn't to be found online so I can't provide a link.

One would think a Libertarian would be among the first to support civilian boards to review actions taken by police. I'm a bit ambivalent but I suppose I'd grudgingy support such an effort. I suppose my ambivalence has a bit to do with some background in the law enforcemnet and corrections fields. It also has a lot to do with my dislike for the monday morning quarterbacking so prevalent in our, and probably every other, society. I've always disliked people who weren't there, and might not have any personal experience in a given situation, pointing fingers at the people who were and had to deal with it.

That said, the police do work for the public and are paid by the public and thus the public should probably have some say in the way police perform their duties, or at least some oversight ability. Not to say there isn't some oversight already, but it does make some sense to have some non- law enforcement types reviewing how their police force operates.

There certainly could be a problem with a board being filled with members who are generally hostile to police, but it could also go the other way, as well. Such are the age old problems of democracy and our various boards and commissions that go along with it. The big question, in my mind, is not so much whether there should be police review boards, but how much and what kind of power they should have?


At 3:30 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Ah, they're trying to answer the question, "who will police the police?" And then we must ask, "who will police the police police?" How about some sort of evaluation process of potential board members? They must demonstrate a basic understanding of law enforcement concepts and the legal issues involved. But then somebody would have to get paid to design and implement the test, and somebody else would have to oversee that...

At 5:58 PM, Blogger the PLAZOID said...

In spite of the inherent flaws in the idea of a police review board (especially one without teeth), I would support the effort - but I wouldn't expect much of anything out of it, and wouldn't bend over backwards (or forwards) to make it happen.
There is an obvious lack of accountability on the part of the police, even here in Arcata. If you hang out for a while with the "transients," or "unhoused," or "drop outs," or whatever you want to call them, for a while, you will definitely witness harrassment on the part of the police. Whether it be selective enforcement of city ordinances (for example: a young lady, probably just passing through town, given a ticket for napping on the plaza at 7:45 pm after Food Not Bombs - according to officer Sligh she was in violation of ordinance prohibiting overnight usage of public space - at 7:45 pm - he also explained that she was "camping" - but all she had was the sleeping bag she was on and her backpack), or outright provocation (especially from ranger Bob Murphy). There's also an issue with the police using Tasers unneccisarily, especially against unhoused people.
Will a police review board be able to do anything about any of this? Probably not. one positive outcome that could come of this is a general atmosphere of the cops knowing that people are looking out for each other and will not tolerate their abuses of power. But this is assuming that they don't have some kind of alterior motive - such as clearing the downtown of non-shoppers at the behest of wealthy merchants and would-be aristocrats - in which case they will do what their paid to do - whatever they're told.


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