Citizen review boards can offer police departments and local residents a function for handling policy and procedures and a place for complaints to be heard and investigated thoroughly by an independent entity. But they have to be done properly.
Wichita, Kansas, is embarking on assembling its own citizen review board in the wake of some complaints over the years of the way the Wichita Police Department has conducted business. There was a story in the local paper recently about a police cover-up of an alleged hit-and-run collision and the department has faced criticism about its use-of-force policies by residents who also say the department isn’t transparent enough about officer-involved shootings and arrests.
Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said he was supportive of the review board and said the department’s internal investigations “are thorough and should be reviewed by people,” according to The Wichita Eagle. Ramsay declined attempts by Emergency Management to speak with him.
The board will cost about $20,000 to operate, and will have seven members, according to The Eagle.
The board will be able to:
Samuel Walker, professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said that with the right ingredients, the board could make a positive impact.
“They have to have a clear sense of what they want to do and then figure out what they need,” he said. “To do it the right way, you need a full-time staff member who does all the grunt work.”
And they could look at the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement for consultation and training and learn from other agencies across the country that have been successful.
Walker said that to do a credible job of reviewing complaints, you need a professional staff to verify police investigations. “It has a broad impact if it’s done right,” he said. “There are a lot of review boards that don’t work right.”