Citizen Review Boards & Bias

Without trust, the system breaks down

By Jim Glennon  |   Apr 16, 2018

“I’m done, they make it impossible to do your job. I got 15 years left. They don’t care if I do or don’t do anything during my shift. As long as I answer my 9-1-1 calls and don’t get in trouble, they’re happy. So, I’ve totally shut down. Just like everyone else.”

That’s a composite quote from literally hundreds of verbalized frustrations that summarize the general attitude of way too many police officers in this country. Travelling this country and talking thousands of cops annually, without hesitation I can say that I’ve never seen the members of this noble profession more disheartened than they are right now.

Why?

One word: Trust.

Officers around the nation consistently tell me they have lost trust in the system. They feel they won’t be supported in cases where they deserve support, especially if the incident is on video and becomes a political football. Whether their behavior is tactically and legally justifiable or not, they expect truth will lose out to assuage their loudest critics. This seems to be the case especially where citizen review boards are the final arbiter.

Citizen Oversight

Politicians, pundits, and the media increasingly demand that citizen review boards take the lead when overseeing complaints about the police. Their argument is that the police cannot investigate themselves because they are naturally biased in favor of police. Furthermore, they contend, law enforcement is a unique profession. Police have tremendous powers bestowed upon them by society. They are called upon, in rare instances, to take a life in the name of public safety. Therefore, police conduct must be overseen by others.

This might anger some in law enforcement, but I agree with this.

Every entity of the government must be responsible to its citizens. Historically, we’ve seen what happens when government systems abuse their power. Politics means personal gain and punishment of the weak. Look at what is happening in Washington, D.C., right now with the Department of Justice, the highest level of law enforcement in the land: infighting, leaks, agendas, etc.

So, a natural fix would seem to be oversight from people who aren’t cops.

But now the sticky wicket. Who should be on the board and what should their qualifications be? Merely appointing interested parties or political cronies is ridiculous. And this is exactly what seems to be happening in some cities.   

I recently spoke to a high-level union official of a major police department. I asked him those questions. His response, and I quote:

“Don’t kid yourself, we all know how they get on that board. They are appointed by the mayor and they hate the police. They have none or very minimal training when it comes to law enforcement. They have an incredible anti-police bias from the get-go. They have never investigated anything, and they don’t train them or give them experience in investigations. They don’t even understand things such as human performance science or how stress affects behavior. They don’t know the law. They believe the cops are out of control no matter what the facts are, and every officer in this department knows it. No one trusts them, so the cops are shutting down.”

No good.

Pundits like to remind us that when the public doesn’t trust their police, the relationship is toxic. Wouldn’t it then follow that if the police don’t trust the people who police them, that also is a toxic relationship?

Some people simply have no business being on a citizen review board—the same as how some people have no business being cops. The question is: Who?

Should we hire felons? Someone with a series of misdemeanor arrests? People lacking a high school education? How about those with political affiliations and/or those who have demonstrated overt negative views about the police? Shouldn’t they be eliminated based on their obvious bias?

Most citizens don’t know the first thing about law enforcement. They watch NCIS, Chicago PD, a couple of Lethal Weapon movies, maybe play some video games or read a true-crime novel, and they truly believe they understand the complexities off dealing with irrational, uncooperative, and violent people routinely. They don’t.   

If you want better of your police, you need to learn about them and what they do and why they do it. I have some suggestions. Create minimum education standards for applicants. Put them through extensive background, psychological, polygraph and drug tests. Put them through intensive and extensive interviews by law enforcement experts.

Have a training academy for anyone who gets hired. Make them ride-along for at least 200 hours. Require courses in human performance science and training that concentrates on the effects of acute, sudden-onset stress. Make them pass tests about the law. Qualify them on the range. Complete, satisfactorily, “shoot/don’t shoot” scenarios. Make them learn how to write reports and articulate what it is they thought, felt, did and said during said scenarios. Then, give them the job on a probationary status for two years. Maybe pay them for their service.

Conclusion

As I’ve written many times before, police officers never get fired for doing nothing. They get fired for doing something.

I warned about this even before Ferguson. Demonize the proactive cops and they’ll shut down. Not, mind you, in the suburbs and affluent urban real estate where our tastemakers and power brokers reside. It’s happening now in the most crime-afflicted and impoverished communities in our nation. And it’s the powerless and vulnerable who pay the price. Every time.

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Jim Glennon
Lt. Jim Glennon (ret.) is the owner and lead instructor for Calibre Press. He is a third-generation LEO, retired from the Lombard, Ill. PD after 29 years of service. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, he commanded both patrol and the Investigations Unit. In 1998, he was selected as the first Commander of Investigations for the newly formed DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force. He has a BA in Psychology, a Masters in Law Enforcement Justice Administration, is the author of the book Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement.
Jim Glennon

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