What are the features of an effective police oversight body?


There is no right answer as to what an effective police oversight body “must” look like.  As many of the FAQ’s point out, flexibility is key.  You can still get to the right outcome through different mechanisms.  However, here are some features, some tangible, some not, which are key to effective police oversight:

  1. Independence. The oversight body must be separate from all groups in order to garner trust by being unbiased. 
  2. Adequate funding.  Oversight bodies must have enough funding and spending authority to fulfill the duties set forth in the enabling legislation.  This includes enough money for adequate staff and money to train that staff. 
  3. Access to all critical pieces.  This includes access to all necessary information and evidence in an investigation, but it also means access to decision makers in both the law enforcement agency and elected officials.
  4. Rapport. The talent, fairness, dedication, and flexibility of the key participants- in particular the oversight director, chief elected official, police chief or sheriff, and union president.   The rapport between the chief players can be far more important to the success of the oversight system than the systems structure. [1]
  5. Ample authority.  Whatever the oversight model chosen, it must have enough authority to be able to accomplish those goals.
  6. Ability to review police policies, training and other systematic issues.  Many see this as one of the most important roles an effective oversight agency can have.  This ability shifts the focus on being reactive to past events to proactive with the possibility to resolve issues before they begin.
  7. Community/Stakeholder Support and Outreach.  Maintaining community interest is important for sustaining an agency through difficult times when cities or government jurisdictions may need to cut services for budget reasons. [2]
  8. Transparency.  Systematic reporting provides transparency and accountability to the community, and typically includes complaint analysis and other observations about the law enforcement organization and its practices. Reporting also increases public confidence in the oversight agency, as much of the work related to complaint investigations may be confidential and protected from public disclosure.[3]

[1] [1] Peter Finn. Citizen Review of Police: Approaches and Implementation, p. xi (Nat’l Institute of Justice 2001).

[2] http://nacole.org/wp-content/uploads/Oversight-in-the-United-States-Attard-and-Olson-2013.pdf