Civilian oversight board -- thoughts?

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    Question Civilian oversight board -- thoughts?

    Thought & experiences?

    washingtonpost.com

    Former police officer wants to keep the Fairfax Police Department in line

    By Tom Jackman
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, May 13, 2010

    Nicholas Beltrante is an unlikely candidate to take on one of the nation's largest suburban police forces. He's 82, a World War II veteran, a former D.C. police officer, longtime private investigator, lifetime member of the National Rifle Association and frequent appointee to criminal justice advisory boards.

    But the Mount Vernon resident was troubled by the police crash that killed teacher's assistant Ashley McIntosh on Route 1 in 2008, and then bothered by the fatal shooting of unarmed motorist David Masters on Route 1 last November. In both cases, Fairfax police disclosed little information about the events, did not release the names of the officers involved and would not discuss any internal discipline, for various long-standing policy reasons.

    Now his dogged efforts and growing disillusion have created a groundswell, and some county residents have launched an effort to create a citizens group to oversee the Fairfax Police Department.

    Fairfax police and politicians say they're open to the idea. Mary Ann Jennings, a police spokeswoman, said her department is researching oversight groups around the country and "we want to closely examine the most successful among those to ensure fairness" to officers as well as civilians.

    Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, said she had heard of Beltrante's effort and discussed it with Fairfax Police Chief David M. Rohrer. "There could be a place for some kind of a citizen body that could be a constructive forum for these issues," Bulova said. Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) said he would present the idea to the board for consideration.

    "When Dave Masters got killed," Beltrante said, "I said, 'I've got to do something about this. This is too much.' The police are sort of out of control. Not all of them. A small number. I think mostly they do a great job. We need them, and they need us, the citizens."

    Citizen groups overseeing police departments are not a new idea. The Office of Police Complaints in the District often is cited as a national model. Reestablished by the D.C. Council in 2001, it has subpoena power and independent investigators. Its work has resulted in departmental discipline including reprimands, suspensions and termination.

    Philip K. Eure, executive director of the D.C. Office of Police Complaints and president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, said there are 150 citizen groups involved in police oversight around the country, including in most large cities. Fairfax's police force is "one of the largest law enforcement agencies without any form of public review," he said. "You think of Fairfax County as being this 'best practices' county government, which is why it's somewhat shocking they're behind the curve on this idea."

    A new calling


    Beltrante retired from the D.C. police as a sergeant after 14 years and opened up Beltrante and Associates. The Washington Post once called him "the dean of Washington's private investigators." After the Watergate break-in, the Democratic National Committee hired him to de-bug their offices in 1972. Married for 35 years, he is the father of three, grandfather of six and great-grandfather of one.

    As he followed the cases of McIntosh and Masters, he began to put his investigative skills to work. He researched civilian oversight panels, read books on the subject and called various police oversight officials around the country.

    Next, he rounded up support from groups such as the local NAACP branch, the ACLU, the National Police Accountability Project in Boston and the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. The Fairfax branch of the NAACP appointed one of its members to help, although it recently posted a statement on its Web site saying it has not decided whether to become involved. Branch President Olivia Jones-Smith did not respond to requests for clarification.

    Beltrante named the group the Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability. And he did it all without the Internet -- no computer, no e-mail account, no BlackBerry. Beltrante used his phone, his fax machine, and a typewriter with the all-caps key apparently stuck.

    In April, Beltrante convened the Citizens Coalition's first meeting at a public library in Mount Vernon. Representatives from the NAACP and the ACLU's Racial Justice Program and Immigrants' Rights Project attended and offered their support, as did Gail Masters, the still-grieving ex-wife of David Masters, and Cindy Colasanto, the mother of McIntosh.

    Beltrante said that Fairfax officers had shot and killed nine people since 2006 and that a 10th person recently was shot twice in the chest at close range but survived. He said the group had two goals: holding police accountable for their actions on duty and making more police reports and records open to the public.

    He noted that Fairfax recently paid $1.5 million to McIntosh's family to settle the lawsuit filed after Officer Amanda Perry ran through a red light and killed McIntosh. "What is the cost to the taxpayer of this police abuse?" Beltrante said.

    Getting organized


    With the NAACP's help, Beltrante set up an e-mail address and is creating a Web site. He wants to begin taking complaints and investigating them, and he has sent a letter to Rohrer asking for cooperation. He also has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the name of the officer who shot Masters -- a shooting ruled justifiable by the Fairfax prosecutor. Beltrante said if the police reject his request, he will challenge it in court.

    Samuel Walker, the author of two books on civilian oversight of police, said there are two models of police review panels. One involves the panel doing its own investigations with its own staff. The other, which Walker gradually came to favor, simply oversees the results of police internal affairs investigations to look for patterns or problems.

    "When you focus on individual cases," Walker said, "you don't focus on the underlying causes."

    The Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability can be reached by e-mail at virginiaccpa@aol.com.
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    I am NOT a fan of citizen review boards. They never seem to improve policing and are often used as political hammers. Some places they seem to make it safer for criminals, and tougher for police to work.

    I guess I'd need to see some data to change my mind on this.

    Not a big fan of lack of police accountability, either. Tough call.

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    There have been several that have tried it, and they never work as designed. Cincinnati was the latest that I know of and have studied, it was a disaster. Crime rates and the associated problems have skyrocket since they have allowed that to happen. My thoughts and experiences are the same as 120mm.

    There already are systems of checks and balances in place; but we seem to have forgotten how a representative republic works.
    "Just blame Sixto"

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    It seems to me that if the Fairfax PD were more open and forthcoming there would be little call for a citizens review committee.

    Citzens review can be good or bad, just as a PD can be. It seems to me that the Fairfax PD has an isolationist attitude and that a call for review is a reaction to this
    “You can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man by logic.”

    ― Robert A. Heinlein,

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    Next, he rounded up support from groups such as the local NAACP branch, the ACLU, the National Police Accountability Project in Boston and the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement.
    Right there is reason enough to doubt the impartiality of Mr. Beltrante's version of a civilian review board. If a board had no regulatory powers - advisory powers only - I might be inclined to lean towards a review board. Problem is that by definition it becomes "us against them." I have a couple of friends in the IAD in the Columbus, OH PD. They do an excellent job of self policing. A thankless but necessary job in order to ensure the PD's are held accountable.

    If I were in the Cat Bird's seat, the only way I would be in favor of a Civilian Review/Oversight Board is if each member were required to go through the same training as an LEO and regular on going training, but were not sworn and had no arrest powers, could not carry a badge or a gun.
    "Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups"

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    Quote Originally Posted by 120mm View Post
    I am NOT a fan of citizen review boards. They never seem to improve policing and are often used as political hammers. Some places they seem to make it safer for criminals, and tougher for police to work.

    ....
    Quote Originally Posted by SIXTO View Post
    There have been several that have tried it, and they never work as designed. Cincinnati was the latest that I know of and have studied, it was a disaster. Crime rates and the associated problems have skyrocket since they have allowed that to happen. My thoughts and experiences are the same as 120mm.

    There already are systems of checks and balances in place; but we seem to have forgotten how a representative republic works.
    That was my gut reaction -- albeit w/o 1st hand knowledge.
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    They were talking about doing a Civilian Review Board in Columbia MO before I came over here. As I recall, one erstwhile citizen that "the minority community" wanted on the board has 2 felony convictions and 1 pending felony case. As I recall the idea went down in flames.

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    Their time and money would be better spend installing more video cameras and audio recorders. Kids with cell phone cameras on youtube have done more for LE accountability than 10,000 lawsuits, protests, and review boards over the past 50 years.
    "a reminder that no law can replace personal responsibility" - Bill Clinton 2010.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pgrass101 View Post
    It seems to me that if the Fairfax PD were more open and forthcoming there would be little call for a citizens review committee.

    Citzens review can be good or bad, just as a PD can be. It seems to me that the Fairfax PD has an isolationist attitude and that a call for review is a reaction to this
    +1..

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    Quote Originally Posted by SIXTO View Post
    There already are systems of checks and balances in place; but we seem to have forgotten how a representative republic works.
    And instead of using that system of checks and balances, he's stirring up the review board. As a former LEO he should have understood the way to get things done is not create more red tape, but use the system that is there to get the public information he seeks.

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    Have to agree with 120mm and Sixto and a few others here. Citizen Review Board in my view is just another name for "Red Tape" and geez another board to answer questions to.

    Want to make difference, run for City Council and make changes from within, best place to do it.
    "I dislike death, however, there are some things I dislike more than death. Therefore, there are times when I will not avoid danger" Mencius"

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    I'm not a police officer, but I've run Information Operations (I/O) for the military, working in a civilian environment, and here is what I'd do if I were Fairfax PD:

    I would identify my leading complainants, and go overboard and give them a deluge of information, both good and bad. I would be relentless in engaging them, and asking for advice. Not just "do you have any advice?" kind of questions, but searching, badgering kinds of questions that force them to make choices and identify/deal with consequences.

    I would hire a guy to make it his career to engage these people, to the extent to where they would dodge my calls and cross the street and turn their head away when they see this dude on the street.

    I would take whatever suggestions that were offered that didn't do horrific damage to policing efforts, get together with my officers, get them to buy into them, and make a BFD about how this or that leading community member contributed to policing.

    In other words, I'd coopt these people, and get their constituency to identify them with the me, and by inference, the police.

    Politics are like guns. They are neither inherently bad or inherently good. They are tools and how you use them defines what you are.

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    Quote Originally Posted by 120mm View Post
    I'm not a police officer, but I've run Information Operations (I/O) for the military, working in a civilian environment, and here is what I'd do if I were Fairfax PD:

    I would identify my leading complainants, and go overboard and give them a deluge of information, both good and bad. I would be relentless in engaging them, and asking for advice. Not just "do you have any advice?" kind of questions, but searching, badgering kinds of questions that force them to make choices and identify/deal with consequences.

    I would hire a guy to make it his career to engage these people, to the extent to where they would dodge my calls and cross the street and turn their head away when they see this dude on the street.

    I would take whatever suggestions that were offered that didn't do horrific damage to policing efforts, get together with my officers, get them to buy into them, and make a BFD about how this or that leading community member contributed to policing.

    In other words, I'd coopt these people, and get their constituency to identify them with the me, and by inference, the police.

    Politics are like guns. They are neither inherently bad or inherently good. They are tools and how you use them defines what you are.
    If they think they are helping, then they are helping, works for me.
    "I dislike death, however, there are some things I dislike more than death. Therefore, there are times when I will not avoid danger" Mencius"

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    He's an X-cop from DC,He is looking for backing from groups that think everytime a person of color is stopped it's racial profiling.
    I believe like everyone else that Investigations should be more open,Instead of pulling the blue curtain down and trying to protect officers that may have screwed up
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    Quote Originally Posted by dukalmighty View Post
    He's an X-cop from DC,He is looking for backing from groups that think everytime a person of color is stopped it's racial profiling.
    I believe like everyone else that Investigations should be more open,Instead of pulling the blue curtain down and trying to protect officers that may have screwed up
    The biggest downside to that is the officers are typically "convicted" in the court of public opinion, and frankly, the public is often very ignorant or misinformed in regards to policing. That is why the blue curtain is often pulled down. Trust me on this, if an officer is a bad apple, he will be tossed by his own quickly. We want the bad apples gone even more than the general public.
    Also, more often than not, when a officer is protected after doing wrong, it is done for politics by politicians. Not by cops.
    "Just blame Sixto"

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