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IX. Alternative Models of Police Oversight


Our contract with the Albuquerque City Council asked us to describe five models of police oversight, to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each one, and to compare the current system in Albuquerque with these other models.

Citizen Oversight of Police in the United States

The Growth of Citizen Oversight

Citizen oversight of the police has grown tremendously over the past fifteen years. In 1980 there were an estimated 13 oversight agencies or procedures; by the end of 1996 there were more than 80.(76) About three-quarters of the police departments in the largest cities of the United States have some form of citizen oversight. It is now an established part of American policing and is virtually universal in other parts of the English-speaking world.(77)

As a result of this rapid growth, there are many different varieties of citizen oversight. There is no single model, and it is difficult to find two oversight agencies that are identical. This report is designed to identify different models of citizen oversight and to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each .

Making sense of the rapidly changing subject of citizen oversight of the police is complicated by several factors. First, there is no consensus on the proper terminology. The terms "citizen oversight," citizen review," and "civilian review" are commonly used. Different kinds of oversight are referred to as "procedures," "mechanisms," "systems," and "agencies."(78) Although the term "civilian review board" is used by many people, not all forms of citizen oversight involve a multi-member board. Some are municipal agencies headed by a single executive director. Some are auditing systems involving an attorney on contract. This report uses the term citizen review procedure throughout.

Second, there are important variations among oversight procedures with respect to organizational structure, mission, and function.(79) Two oversight procedures may have the same formal organizational structure but have very different missions and perform different functions. As this report explains below, the functions of citizen oversight agencies are at least as important (and possibly more important) as the formal organizational structure. This report uses a five-part classification system for citizen oversight adapted from the work of different experts in the field.(80)

The Issue of Independence

The issue of "independence" is extremely complex and controversial. One of the basic purposes of citizen oversight is to provide an independent review of citizen complaints -- in the sense of being independent of the internal police department procedures. Independence is designed to enhance the credibility or legitimacy of the complaint process in the eyes of the community.(81)

Whether or not a particular procedure is in fact independent is a highly subjective matter.(82) A procedure may be independent of the police department in terms of its formal organizational structure, but not be perceived by community leaders as truly independent. Some existing procedures are less independent than they appear to be to many citizens.(83) Conversely, some procedures may be more independent than they appear to be.(84) The perceived independence of a citizen oversight procedure is often dependent upon the personality of the person who holds the key office (for example, the executive director of a citizen oversight procedure may be independent in a formal organizational sense, but be perceived to be overly sympathetic to the police).(85) Much depends on the nature of the political leadership in the community. If the mayor and city council (or county commissioners) are strongly committed to controlling police misconduct, and appoint oversight personnel who are competent and committed to that mission, an oversight mechanism is likely to be independent in fact and by perception.

The inescapable problem is that, in the area of citizen oversight, "independence" is a highly subjective phenomenon. There is no mechanical formula for defining or measuring independence.

Five Models of Citizen Oversight

In terms of structure and mission, there are five basic models of citizen oversight of the police. These models are referred to here as Classes IA, IB, II, III, and IV.(86)

(1) & (2). In Class IA and IB models of citizen oversight, individual citizen complaints are received and investigated by persons who are not sworn police officers . These investigators are generally full-time, paid professional employees of the city or county government. Because the initial fact-finding is done by persons who are not sworn police officers, Class IA and IB systems are generally regarded as the most independent form of citizen oversight. In Class IA procedures the investigative reports are reviewed by a board which then votes on the merits of the case and sends a report and recommendation to the police chief executive. The San Francisco Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC) is an example of a Class IA procedure.

Class IB procedures involve a separate municipal agency with a single executive director who reviews the investigative reports and forwards a recommendation to the police chief executive. The Cincinnati Office of Municipal Investigation (OMI) is an example of a Class IB procedure. Because there is so much public misunderstanding on this subject, it is important to note that Class I procedures have only the power to make recommendations to the police chief executive. They do not have the power to fire or otherwise discipline police officers. This important issue is discussed in more detail below.

(3). In Class II systems, citizen complaints are investigated by sworn police officers assigned to the department's internal affairs (IA) unit or office of professional standards (OPS). The investigative reports are then forwarded to the citizen oversight procedure which reviews the reports, makes a determination about the merits of the complaint, and forwards a recommendation to the police chief executive. Some Class II oversight procedures consist of a board, while others involve only a single executive. Because the initial fact-finding is done by sworn police officers, Class II procedures are regarded as less independent than Class I procedures. The Kansas City Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC) is an example of a Class II procedure.

(4). Class III procedures represent a form of appellate review of citizen complaints. Individual citizen complaints are received, investigated and disposed of by the police department . If the complainant is not satisfied with the final decision by the police chief executive, he or she may appeal that decision to the citizen oversight procedure. Because the input by non-sworn persons occurs after an initial disposition of the complaint, Class III procedures are regarded as less independent than either Class I or Class II procedures. The Omaha Citizen Complaint Review Board is an example of a Class III procedure

(5). Class IV procedures are known as "auditor" approaches to citizen oversight. Individual citizen complaints are received, investigated, and disposed of by the police department. The auditor conducts regular audits or investigations of the operations of the police department's complaint process and makes periodic public reports. The auditing function in Los Angeles County, San Jose, Portland, and Albuquerque includes the authority to review the tape recordings of complaint investigations. This process can serve to identify investigations that are not thorough (e.g., the investigator fails to ask obvious follow-up questions; or fails to interview witnesses who have been identified), or possible bias in the interviews (e.g., hostile questions for the complainant, leading questions for the police officer). The Albuquerque Independent Counsel is an example of a Class IV procedure.

The employment status of auditors varies considerably. In Portland, Oregon, the auditor is a full-time paid staff member of the mayor's office, but also reports to an independent Police Internal Investigations Auditing Committee (PIIAC), a board of citizens with responsibility for oversight of the police department. In San Jose, the Independent Police Auditor (IPA) is a separate municipal agency which reports directly to the city council. The Seattle Auditor, Los Angeles County Special Counsel, and Albuquerque Independent Counsel are private attorneys working under fixed term contracts.

There is some disagreement among the experts on citizen oversight over whether Class IV procedures are more or less independent of the police department than Class I procedures.

The Different Functions of Citizen Oversight

Citizen oversight procedures engage in a number of different functions. These functions are not necessarily related to the formal organizational structure of the oversight procedure.(87)

Independent Investigations

As discussed above, some (Class IA and Class IB) citizen oversight procedures conduct their own independent investigation of complaints. An estimated 34 percent of citizen oversight procedures have this responsibility.(88) Other types of citizen oversight provide either some input (Class II) or provide appellate review (Class III).

There is considerable variation regarding the nature and scope of these investigations, however, particularly with respect to subpoena power and public hearings. An estimated 38 percent of citizen review procedures have subpoena power. About half (46 percent) conduct (or at least have the power to conduct) public hearings.(89) Subpoena power is particularly important. Thorough investigation requires a full investigation of the facts surrounding a complaint. If a police officer or citizen refuses to cooperate the investigation will be thwarted.(90)

The important point is that some citizen oversight procedures may have nominally independent investigative authority, but not have sufficient power to conduct meaningfully thorough investigations.

Policy Review

About two-thirds of all citizen oversight procedures have the formal authority to examine the policies and procedures of the police department and to make recommendations for new policies. This function is referred to as policy review.(91)

Although it is not widely publicized, many experts regard the policy review function as an extremely important aspect of citizen oversight. Policy review is designed to serve a preventive function by identifying problems and recommending corrective action that will improve policing and reduce citizen complaints in the future.(92) Douglas Perez refers to this process as the "learning" function of citizen oversight. Ideally, a police department uses complaints as a way of identifying problems and initiating corrective action.(93)

Some citizen oversight procedures engage in extensive policy review. In 1993, for example, the San Diego County Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board (CLREB) made a total of eleven policy recommendations, with 9 related to the sheriff's department and 2 related to the county probation department.(94) Some examples of policy review by other procedures including the following.

(a) The San Francisco OCC drafted and recommended a new policy on crowd control by the San Francisco police department. This was in response to several incidents where police officers used excessive force in attempting to disperse large demonstrations. The recommended policy was adopted, and is regarded as an excellent balance between the need for maintaining public order and the legitimate First Amendment rights of citizens.(95)

(b) The Denver Public Safety Review Commission (PSRC) raised the issue of the Denver Police Department's "gang list," which had an estimated 3,747 names (which was down from 6,567 a year earlier). Citizens were concerned about the criteria used to place young people on the list, and the opportunities for a person whose behavior had changed to be removed from the list. As a result of the PSRC's involvement, the number of names on the gang list was drastically reduced and several reforms were made in the procedures of the gang unit. The PSRC was not completely satisfied with these changes, and continued to monitor the issue.(96)

(c) The San Jose Independent Police Auditor discovered that the San Jose police department was classifying many citizen complaints as minor "administrative complaints," with the result that they were not officially recorded as complaints. A recommendation by the IPA resulted in a new recording system that more accurately reflects citizen concerns.(97)

(d) The Albuquerque Independent Counsel recommended the development of an "on-lookers" policy for the Albuquerque Police Department that allows citizens to observe the arrest of other persons without themselves being arrested or ordered to leave the scene.(98) (The policy was based on a similar on-lookers policy that had been adopted in San Jose at the recommendation of the Independent Police Auditor).(99)

Public Information

Many experts believe that one of the most important functions of citizen oversight is to provide information to the public about the police department and the complaint process. By itself, this information serves as a form of oversight and accountability, providing voters, elected officials, and the news media with relevant information about police activities. Information serves to "open" police departments to the public. Historically, police departments have been "closed" organizations, with a quasi-military structure and culture and a strong resistance to external scrutiny.(100) Departments traditionally provided little information about citizen complaints. The lack of information tends to breed distrust and suspicion among citizens.

Police departments increasingly provide information about complaints and discipline. Many include data on the number of complaints, the number of complaints sustained, and disciplinary actions in their annual report.(101) The St. Petersburg Police Department, for example, publishes an annual internal affairs report in additional to the normal departmental annual report. This report is extremely detailed and serves as a model of openness.(102)

As official government agencies with a mandate to oversee police departments, citizen oversight procedures are able to collect and publish information about police activities that is not otherwise available to the public. All citizen oversight procedures publish some form of public report. The size and scope of these reports varies considerably. Some are much longer and more detailed than others. The annual report of the Kansas City Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC) is an extremely short "bare bones" document, with little more than summary data on the number of complaints.(103) The reports of the Los Angeles County Special Counsel, on the other hand, are extremely lengthy and filled with detailed information about issues that the Special Counsel has addressed.(104) The quarterly reports of the Albuquerque Independent Counsel are among the shortest and least detailed the Consultants have seen.(105)

There are many different kinds of data that citizen review procedures can collect and publish.

1. Disposition of Complaints . Most citizen review agencies, and many police departments, publish summary data on the disposition of citizen complaints. These include the number of complaints received, the number in different categories (i.e., use of force), and the percentage of complaints sustained.

There is great variation in the level of detail about the disposition of complaints. The San Francisco OCC, for example, publishes a chronological listing of the disposition of its recommendations by the police chief.(106) The 1993 Annual Report of the San Diego Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) contains a chronological list of individual complaints, including the nature of the allegation, the name of the officer (with badge number), and the disposition of each complaint.(107)

The Aurora, Colorado, Police Department publishes a list of all disciplinary actions on a quarterly basis. A U.S. Justice Department report on Police Integrity cited this as a "Model Practice," stating that it "has minimized the media sensationalism often associated with disciplinary cases," and that it "provides a mechanism for the public to see the department's willingness to police itself...." (108)

2. Patterns of Complaints . Some citizen oversight procedures provide very detailed data on the patterns of citizen complaints. These include patterns by (a) type of complaint (e.g., use of force, verbal abuse, etc.); (b) geographic area (e.g., precinct, city council district); (c) race, ethnicity, and gender of complainants; (d) characteristics of the officers (race, ethnicity, gender, assignment, seniority, etc.); (e) interaction of complainants and officers with respect to the race of both parties. The New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) and the San Diego County Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) publish data on the race and ethnicity of officers who receive complaints compared to their presence in their respective departments.(109) These figures are useful in identifying possible patterns of racial and ethnic discrimination in complaint situations. The New York CCRB also publishes data on the gender of officers who are subject to complaints. This information is useful in identifying possible patterns of sexism in complaint situations. One of the most important patterns involves officers who receive repeated complaints. Because of its importance, this subject is discussed below (see "Early Warning Systems").

3. Policy Review Recommendations . Most of the citizen oversight procedures that engage in policy review publish descriptions of their recommendations and the underlying problem. The nature of this information varies considerably. The San Francisco OCC, for example, includes their recommendations in its regular reports. There is usually little explanatory material, however. The Los Angeles County Special Counsel and the San Jose Independent Police Auditor, however, often include lengthy narrative discussions of problems they have identified along with their formal recommendations. This information serves an important function in terms of educating the public and providing a basis for public discussions of policy.

Early Warning Systems

One of the most important new developments in the control of police misconduct has been the creation of "early warning systems" (EWS) designed to identify officers who receive large numbers of complaints. These officers are often referred to as "problem-prone" officers.

Substantial research has found that in virtually every police department a small percentage of officers receive a disproportionate share of all complaints. In Kansas City, for example, 2 percent of the officers were responsible for 50 percent of all complaints.(110) In Boston, 11 percent of the officers were responsible for 61.5 percent of all complaints.(111) The Christopher Commission identified 44 "problem officers" in the Los Angeles Police Department. The Commission pointed out, moreover, that these officers were "readily identifiable" from data already on file with the police department.(112)

In 1981 the U. S. Civil Rights Commission made the first recommendation for the development of early warning systems to identify problem officers.(113) Since then, a number of police departments have put systems in place.

Existing early warning systems differ in terms of both the factors that "trigger" the system and the department's response to officers who have been identified. In San Jose, for example, the early warning system identifies officers who receive three or more complaints in a 12 month period.(114) The San Francisco EWS identifies officers who receive three or more complaints in a six month period or four or more within a year.(115)

Departmental response to officers who have been identified as receiving repeated complaints also varies. Most EWS systems involve some form of counselling or retraining by supervisory officers. In Berkeley, California intervention includes crisis intervention counselling by professionals for the officer, changes of assignment, and closer supervision.(116) In Portland an officer has a mandatory Administrative Intervention session with his or her immediate supervisor.(117) In San Jose, however, the Intervention Counselling involves a meeting with the Police Chief, the head of internal affairs, and the officer's immediate supervisor.(118) Kansas City requires the 25 officers with the most complaints in any period to attend a regularly scheduled Strategic Communication School (which also involves other officers not identified by the EWS).(119)

In most instances, EWS counselling is designed to be informal, non-punitive, and separate from the normal disciplinary process. Typically, no formal record of the counselling is made in the officer's personnel file. Most EWS systems include complaints that have not been sustained. As the San Francisco EWS policy explains, the purpose of the counselling is to both "reinforce good performance, improve poor performance, and correct behaviors that precipitate or contribute to complaints." (120)

There have been no evaluations of early warning systems to date, however. Therefore, it is not known how many exist, how they operate, or whether they are effective.

A citizen oversight procedure can play an important role with respect to early warning systems in two respects. First, it can take the lead in recommending the adoption of an early warning system where one does not already exist. The Denver Public Safety Review Commission (PSRC) initiated a discussion of this issue with police and other city officials in 1994.(121) Second, it can establish and maintain its own EWS, by virtue of its access to complaint data. The Minneapolis Civilian Police Review Authority has "provided the Minneapolis Police Department with a 'tracking system' designed to help the department be "proactive in dealing with suspected behavior problems." (122)

It should be noted that, to protect the privacy rights of officers --because it often involves unsubstantiated complaints-- this information does not need to include individual officers' names. It can, however, include information on the geographic location and shift assignment of officers who receive multiple complaints. This information can be provided to the police department, in a more complete document which includes identifying information, for appropriate action.(123) This information serves an important public accountability function. Merely publishing the information puts great pressure on the responsible police officials to take appropriate action regarding these officers.

Community Outreach

Some citizen oversight agencies define their mission in terms of active outreach to the community. This outreach includes a program of speaking to community groups to (a) inform the public about the complaint process and (b) receive information about citizen concerns. The oversight procedures that engage in active outreach programs generally publish detailed information about these activities in their regular reports.

The 1995 Annual Report of the San Francisco OCC, for example, reported on staff member interviews with local and national radio and television programs, presentations at five community meetings, presentations at the Citizens' Police Academy and a local high school, and staff involvement with both one community organization and the local bar association.(124) The Minneapolis Civilian Police Authority reported in 1995 that it "made efforts to inform citizens, neighborhoods and community organizations" about the complaint process.(125)

One important aspect of community outreach involves contact with racial and ethnic minority communities. Minorities are generally over-represented among persons who have problems with or complaints about the police. Language barriers create additional problems for residents who do not speak English. Finally, among many recent immigrant groups there are high levels of distrust and fear of the police. Addressing these problems is one of the major functions of citizen oversight. To address these problems, some citizen oversight procedures distribute brochures and complaint forms in as many as four different languages other than English.(126)

An active program of community is critically important to the effectiveness of any citizen oversight mechanism. First, it is essential that citizens be fully informed about the complaint process. This facilitates the filing of complaints by individuals who feel aggrieved, and it contributes to the openness that builds public confidence in the complaint and the oversight procedures. Second, the outreach process is a mechanism for bringing community concerns to the police department and the oversight procedure, both of which may then respond by considering changes in police department policies. In short, it is an important part of the policy review function discussed above.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Different Models of Citizen Oversight

The following section discusses the advantages and disadvantages of different aspects of citizen oversight.

Class IA and IB Procedures

Advantages - Class IA and IB oversight procedures conduct their own independent review of complaints by non-sworn investigators. This approach has the advantage of being genuinely independent of the police department, and thereby enhancing public confidence that complaints will receive a thorough and objective investigation. Class IA procedures have the special advantage of being directed by a multi-member board. This approach can ensure broad representation of the diverse elements of the local community and an avenue for communicating community concerns to the police department and other city officials.

Disadvantages - Independent review of complaints is resented by rank and file police officers and may cause morale problems. Independent review of complaints introduces the problem of the quality of the staff and adequacy of the resources available to it. High standards with respect to the selection, training, and supervision of investigative staff are necessary to ensure maximum effectiveness.(127) Procedures that do not have sufficient power to conduct investigations (e.g., subpoena power) are not likely to succeed in terms of either providing thorough investigations or maintaining credibility with the public. Procedures that do not engage in policy review, publish information about the complaint process, maintain an active program of community outreach, or help to establish and maintain an early warning system are not likely to be fully effective.

Class II Procedures

Advantages - Class II procedures provide a certain limited degree of citizen input into the complaint process. In this respect, they provide more oversight than a completely internal form of review. Class II procedures that engage in policy review, published detailed information about police activities, and have an active community outreach program can make a positive contribution to improved police-community relations.

Disadvantages - Because they do not conduct their own investigations, Class II procedures are less independent than Class I procedures. In certain respects, Class II procedures promise more independence than they can in fact deliver, with the result that they do not fully resolve community concerns about the complaint process. Class II that do not engage in policy review, publish information, and have an active community outreach program are particularly weak.

Class III Procedures

Advantages - Class III procedures provide some very limited degree of citizen oversight, offering a form of appellate review for dissatisfied complainants.

Disadvantages - Class III procedures are far less independent than either Class I or Class II procedures. They do not conduct independent investigations or provide input prior to the final disposition by the chief executive. As a result, Class III procedures deliver far less in the way of oversight than they appear to promise, with the result that they do not fully resolve community concerns about the complaint process. Class III procedures that do not engage in policy review, provide detailed information about the complaint process, conduct community outreach, or help to establish and maintain an early warning system are particularly weak.

Class IV Procedures

Advantages - Class IV procedures can monitor the internal affairs unit of the police department, identify problems, and recommend improvements in the complaint process. If a Class IV procedure publishes extensive reports about its activities, it can help to "open" up a police department, contributing to public dialogue about police problems, and enhancing public confidence in the oversight process.

Disadvantages - Because Class IV procedures leave the primary responsibility for investigating complaints with the police department, some community leaders may perceive them to be not fully independent. There is also the potential problem that the auditor will become "co-opted" by the police department and not provide a meaningful form of oversight.

Policy Review

Advantages - The policy review function can play an extremely important role in identifying problems with police practices, providing a forum for public discussion of these problems, and a formal mechanism for recommending changes in policy. It is highly recommended.

Disadvantages - The Consultants are not aware of any serious disadvantages with or criticisms of the policy review function. Some police officials might argue that members of a citizen oversight body do not have the necessary understanding of police practices to make recommendations. The policy review function, through the process of public debates, gives police officials an opportunity to present their point of view on particular issues. The policy recommendations are, after all, only recommendations and do not have to be accepted if police officials feel that they are unwise or illegal.

Public Information

Advantages - Providing detailed information about the police department and the complaint process is extremely valuable. It is highly recommended that citizen oversight procedures provide the most detailed information possible.

Disadvantages - The Consultants are not aware of any disadvantages with or criticisms of providing public information. The only caution is that public reports need to be sensitive to the privacy rights of both complainants and police officers where this information is potentially damaging and has not been otherwise publicly disclosed.

Early Warning Systems

Advantages - An early warning system offers the advantage of providing an effective response to the problem of those officers who appear to have a problem dealing with citizens in a professional manner. It is highly recommended.

Disadvantages - The authors of this report are not aware of any disadvantages with an early warning system. As noted earlier, there have been no evaluations of early warning systems and the Consultants are not at this time prepared to recommend a particular form.

Community Outreach

Advantages - An active program of community outreach is one of the most important functions of citizen oversight. It is strongly recommended.

Disadvantages - The Consultants are not aware of any serious disadvantages of community outreach. The only potential problem would arise if community meetings are conducted only for the purpose of criticizing the police without any constructive program for investigating community concerns and recommending changes in policy where appropriate.

A Common Misunderstanding About "Civilian Review Boards"

Some people who advocate "civilian review boards" want a procedure where an independent board of citizens would have the power to fire or otherwise discipline police officers and to set policies for the police department.

With a few exceptions, this approach to citizen oversight is not found in the United States. The exceptions are Detroit, Milwaukee, San Francisco, and a few other cities where, by city charter or state law, the local police departments are governed by a Police Commission consisting of appointed officials. These commissions have general authority over the police department and are not limited to the handling of complaints.

There is considerable variation in how the police commissions in these cities deal with the question of citizen complaints. The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission "can suspend, demote, or discharge [police] department members for conduct in violation of department rules and regulations." (128) The Commission itself determines the proper method of disposing of individual complaints (e.g., mediation, referral to the police chief), and in some instances conducts a trial over a specific complaint. The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners established an Office of the Chief Investigator which employs a staff of investigators who are not sworn officers. In 1996 the Los Angeles Police Commission, which previously had played no role in the handling of complaints, appointed an Inspector General with broad responsibility regarding complaints and discipline.

There are several problems with the idea of giving a civilian review board the power to discipline officers.

First, in most jurisdictions such a procedure would violate either state law, or city charter, or both. It might also violate existing collective bargaining agreements with police associations. The creation of the Detroit Police Commission required a revision of the city charter by referendum of the voters.(129)

Second, the Consultants do not believe it is advisable to undermine the power and responsibility of the police chief executive for discipline. The principle of accountability means that the public should hold the police to highest standards of professional conduct and that responsibility for maintaining those standards should be clearly focused on the chief executive. The worst possible scenario is one where a police chief is able to escape responsibility, and for example say "yes, there is a problem with police misconduct here, but I cannot do anything about it." Citizen oversight is designed to enhance the accountability of the police chief executive for standards of police conduct. It contributes to this process by providing additional input into the discipline process, representing a citizen's perspective. Command officers in the Albuquerque Police Department, for example, stated that the Independent Counsel helped them "see an incident from a citizen's point of view."(130)

Many advocates of a completely "independent" citizen review board also have not thought through the problem of how the members of such a board would be chosen.(131) One method would be to have the mayor appoint all members. This approach, however, would concentrate too much power in the hands of one person. Another approach would be to have members elected. There are two problems with this. It is not clear how this elected board would be different from the existing city council which is also elected. Second, there is a good chance that the police association or union would actively campaign and succeed in electing a majority of the board members. The result would be a board that is not independent of the police department and, therefore, contrary to the goals of citizen oversight. The Consultants believe that the proper balance is achieved by having an appointed citizen oversight body, where the appointment process is shared by the mayor and members of the city council (or county commission).

A Comparison of the Albuquerque Oversight Mechanisims with Alternative Models

Albuquerque has in place two forms of citizen oversight or citizen review, the Independent Counsel and the Public Safety Advisory Board, and has had both for several years. The question before the citizens of Albuquerque is not whether there should be citizen oversight, but how well the existing mechanisms are functioning.

The existing mechanisms for oversight of the Albuquerque police department suffer in comparison with the mechanisms that exist in other jurisdictions.

Positive Aspects

The current system of oversight has three important positive features. The Independent Counsel does direct the complaint investigation process, as mandated by ordinance. By reviewing complaint investigations, the IC serves as a check and balance on Internal Affairs. The IC also makes recommendations for changes in APD policies and procedures.

All three of these activities embody the basic concept of citizen oversight of police. They serve to open up the traditionally closed complaint process and provide an independent citizen's perspective on complaints.

Negative Aspects

The current system of oversight in Albuquerque suffers from a number of limitations, most of which are self-imposed.

(1) The Independent Counsel has failed to engage in an active program of community outreach similar to that undertaken in other jurisdictions. This failure has contributed to the lack of public information about the complaint process and the low number of citizen complaints. Even more important, it has undermined the credibility of the oversight process itself, and undermined the positive contributions made by the IC. Citizens of Albuquerque are not aware of the work of the IC. As we note in Chapter Five, this limitation on the role of the IC is largely self-imposed and not dictated by ordinance.

(2) The Independent Counsel has made limited use of its policy review function. As we discuss in Chapter Five, the IC has made some very good recommendations for changes in APD policy, on issues of great concern to the public. The sheer volume of recommendations, however, is very small when compared with equivalent oversight mechanisms in other jurisdictions. At the same time, the lack of a public outreach program has meant that the public is not aware of the policy review activities of the IC and feels it has no effective avenue for addressing its concerns.

(3) The Public Safety Advisory Board has failed to systematically use its authority to conduct studies regarding the policies and practices of the APD. The few studies it has undertaken, notably the 1991 deadly force report, are a pathetically small number. Moreover, there are serious questions about whether the PSAB monitored implementation of its own 1991 report, or the few other recommendations it has made.

(4) By failing to provide adequate oversight of the APD, the Public Safety Advisory Board has become dysfunctional. At present, it tends to aggravate tensions between the APD and the community rather than resolve them. Equivalent oversight mechanisms in other jurisdictions have established good working relationships with the police departments they oversee.

(5) The APD has failed to adequately publicize the complaint process throughout the community.


Albuquerque presently has two forms of citizen review or oversight of the police. They have not been working effectively, however. They fail to perform many of the beneficial functions that are being performed by equivalent mechanisms in other jurisdictions. The problem is not one of statutory authority. The Independent Counsel and Public Safety Advisory Board have failed to use the authority they already have.

76. Samuel Walker and Betsy Wright, Citizen Review of the Police, 1994: A National Survey (Washington: Police Executive Research Forum, 1995). A 1996 update is in the process of being completed.

77. Andrew Goldsmith, Complaints Against the Police: The Trend to External Review (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991).

78. These issues are discussed in Samuel Walker, Citizen Review Resource Manual (Washington: Police Executive Research Forum, 1995).

79. Samuel Walker and Betsy Wright Kreisel, "Varieties of Citizen Review," American Journal of Police, XV (No. 3, 1996): 65-88.

80. Wayne Kerstetter, "Who Disciplines the Police? Who Should?," in W. A. Geller, ed., Police Leadership in America: Crisis and Opportunity (New York: Praeger, 1985). Andrew J. Goldsmith, "New Directions in Police Complaints Procedures: Some Conceptual and Comparative Departures," Police Studies, 11 (Summer 1988): 60-71. Douglas W. Perez, Common Sense About Police Review (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994). Walker and Wright, Citizen Review of the Police - 1994: A National Survey.

81. See the discussion of "legitimacy" in Douglas W. Perez, Common Sense About Police Review (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994), pp. 74-76.

82. Richard J. Terrill, "Alternative Perceptions of Independence in Civilian Oversight," Journal of Police Science and Administration, 17 (1980): 77-83.

83. The Kansas City Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC), for example, is a separate agency independent of the police department, but the actual investigation of citizen complaints is conducted by sworn officers in the police department.

84. Complaints in Detroit are investigated by the staff of the Office of the Chief Investigator (OCI). Both the OCI and the police department are under the direction of the Board of Police Commissioners. Thus, in a formal organizational sense the OCI is not independent of the police; but because complaint investigators are not sworn police officers, the complaint process is independent in another sense.

85. This conclusion is based on the consultant's field research regarding the Flint, Michigan Ombudsman.

86. Walker and Wright, Citizen Review of the Police - 1994: A National Survey.

87. Walker and Kreisel, "Varieties of Citizen Review."

88. Walker and Kreisel, "Varieties of Citizen Review," Table 1, p. 72.

89. Walker and Kreisel, "Varieties of Citizen Review."

90. Prior to the enactment of a new ordinance in the summer of 1996, Oakland, California police officers could refuse to participate in up to 40 percent of all investigations by the Oakland Citizens' Police Review Board: "Memorandum of Understanding Between City of Oakland and Oakland Police Officers' Association" (March 24 1993). For criticisms of this system and a discussion of the 1996 changes, see PUEBLO and ACLU of Northern California, Failing the Test: Oakland's Police Complaint Process in Crisis (December 10, 1996).

91. Walker and Kreisel, "Varieties of Citizen Review."

92. This point was made thirty years ago by Walter Gellhorn, When Americans Complain (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966), pp. 185-186. Walker and Kreisel, "Varieties of Citizen Review."

93. Perez, Common Sense About Police Review, pp. 76-81.

94. San Diego County, Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board, 1993 Annual Report (San Diego: February 23, 1994).

95. San Francisco Police Department, General Order 8.03 (August 3, 1994). Interviews: Staff, San Francisco, OCC; John Crew, staff attorney, ACLU of Northern California.

96. Denver, Public Safety Review Commission, Semi-Annual Report (June 1994), pp. 4-5; Annual Report (1994), pp. 5-8. Personal conversation, Joseph G. Sandoval, member PSRC Board.

97. San Jose, Independent Police Auditor, First Quarterly Report (9/13/93 to 12/13/93), pp. 8-13. Personal communication, Teresa Guerrero-Daley, Director, IPA.

98. Albuquerque, Independent Counsel, Report For the Quarter Ending June 30, 1995 (Albuquerque: December 4, 1995).

99. San Jose Independent Police Auditor, Third Quarterly Report (4/1/94 to 6/30/94), pp. 23-26.

100. William A. Westley, Violence and the Police (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1970). Egon Bittner, The Functions of the Police in Modern Society (Washington: NIMH, 1970).

101. Omaha Police Division, Annual Report, annual.

102. St. Petersburg Police Department, Internal Affairs Unit, Annual Report, 1994 (St. Petersburg, 1994). The report is over 50 pages long and includes a copy of the official departmental order describing the complaint process, along with a statement of the departments "Discipline Philosophy."

103. Kansas City, Office of Citizen Complaints, 1993 Annual Report (1993).

104. Special Counsel Merrick Bobb and Staff, 5th Semiannual Report [on the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department] (Los Angeles, 1996).

105. Independent Counsel, Quarterly Report for the Period Ending June 30, 1996 (November 20, 1996).

106. San Francisco, Office of Citizen Complaints, 1996 Third Quarter Statistical Report (October 25, 1996).

107. San Diego County, Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board, 1993 Annual Report (San Diego, February 23, 1994).

108. U.S. Department of Justice, Police Integrity: Public Service With Honor (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1997), p. 57.

109. New York Civilian Complaint Review Board, Status Report, July - December 1993, p. 51. San Diego Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board, Annual Report, 1993 .

110. "Kansas City Police Go After Their 'Bad Boys'," The New York Times (September 10, 1991).

111. "Wave of Abuse Claims Laid to a Few Officers," Boston Globe (October 4, 1992).

112. Report of the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department (Los Angeles, 1991), p. 35.

113. U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Who is Guarding the Guardians? A Report on Police Practices (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1981).

114. San Jose Independent Police Auditor, Year End Report - 1996 (February 1997).

115. San Francisco Police Department, General Order #3.19, "Counselling of Members/Early Warning System" (April 5, 1995).

116. Consultant Eileen Luna was a staff member with the Berkeley Police Review Commission.

117. Personal conversation, Lisa Botsko, Portland, OR.

118. Personal conversations, San Jose Police Chief and San Jose Independent Police Auditor.

119. Personal communication, Captain, Kansas City Police Department.

120. San Francisco Police Department, General Order #3.19.

121. "Concern Over Officers With Frequent Complaints," City and County of Denver Public Safety Review Commission, Annual Report, 1994 (Denver: PSRC, 1995).

122. Minneapolis Civilian Police Authority, 1995 Annual Report (Minneapolis: CPRA, 1996), p. 2.

123. The San Francisco OCC "reports to the police department on a quarterly basis a list of officers who have received three or more complaints within a six months period or four or more

within a year. San Francisco, Office of Citizen Complaints, 1995 Annual Report (1996), pp. 2-3.

124. San Francisco, Office of Citizen Complaints, Annual Report 1995 (San Francisco: February 20, 1996).

125. Minneapolis Civilian Police Review Authority, 1995 Annual Report (Minneapolis: CPRA, 1996), p. 1.

126. Examples are cited in Walker, Citizen Review Resource Manual.

127. The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), a strong advocate of citizen oversight, has been extremely critical of the performance of the existing CCRB in New York. New York Civil Liberties Union, A Third Anniversary Overview of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, Jul 5, 1993 - July 5, 1996 (New York: NYCLU, 1996).

128. Richard S. Jones, "Processing Civilian Complaints: A Study of the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission," Marquette Law Review, 77 (1994): 505-519.

129. Edward Littlejohn, "The Civilian Police Commission: A Deterrent of Police Misconduct," University of Detroit Journal of Urban Law, 59 (Fall 1981): 5-62.

130. Interview with Consultants.

131. This issue is discussed in Walker and Kreisel, "Varieties of Citizen Review.