FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
ISSUES IN DEPTH
RESOURCES/ OTHER LINKS
A Civilian Review Board:
Creating Trust And Accountability
Through Citizen Monitoring Of Police Activities
Many people in Louisville, particularly in the African-American, immigrant, and poor white
communities, do not trust the police. This is partly due to the widespread dissatisfaction
with the way complaints about police activities within the community are handled. These
complaints range from harassment of youth hanging out on a street corner, to deadly use of
force against unarmed men.
People are either afraid to file a complaint or think that it won't do any good. Some
officers actually try to persuade people not to file formal complaints that will later become
part of an officer's record. (See: OOPS?!: Process and
Suggestions For Filing a Complaint and CAPA Harassment Form)
Basically, there is a lack of trust between the people of Louisville and the police.
A lot of people do not believe that police officials take their complaints seriously. At best,
investigations into these complaints by officials inside the police department are superficial,
while at other times they are outright attempts to cover up misconduct and abuse.
Through news accounts and by word of mouth, Louisville has witnessed time and again the
worst incidents of police or other law enforcement violence or abuse going unpunished.
Sometimes those involved were even promoted or honored. Who looked into these cases and
decided the fate of the officers involved? Who are the police accountable to? The answer in
Louisville is that the police "police" themselves.
What is needed is a "civilian review board" that provides
a way for ordinary people from the community to monitor and investigate complaints about police
conduct. The idea behind civilian review of the police is basic to our democracy: the police are
public servants whose role is to enforce the laws and protect public safety; but in doing so they
must serve the people, not wage war against them. To accomplish this, there must be a level of
trust between the police and this community that is rooted in accountability.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union or ACLU, already more than 60 percent of this
nation's 50 largest cities have some type of civilian review system in place. While these vary
widely, CAPA has found that there are some features that should be a part of any effective
civilian review board. These features are designed to promote public confidence in the process:
- Citizen Involvement: the review board must consist of citizens who represent
the community at large, selected in an open and democratic process. If the Mayor or
other city officials appoint the board members, citizens will wonder about their
- Independence: a review board must have the authority to independently investigate
incidents. While a review board must be a part of local government, it must be independent
of and housed away from the Mayor's office, the Police Department, or Public Safety
Department. (A review board does not diminish the power of the Mayor or Police Chief who
would still determine the nature of any disciplinary actions against police officers who
have engaged in misconduct. Board findings should be considered, however, in determining
appropriate disciplinary action.)
- Investigatory power: the board should have complete access to police witnesses
and documents. It must be able to conduct public hearings on serious incidents,
subpoena witnesses and report the findings and recommendations to the public.
- Openness: all proceedings and records related to the board's activities must
be open to the public.
- Adequate funding: a review board should not be a lower budget priority than
the police internal affairs department and must receive enough funds to carry out
its work or it cannot be effective.
Activists in every city with civilian review boards have had to overcome resistance from
local police departments and Louisville is no exception. As of December 2003, this city's
civilian review ordinance, which was passed by the Board of Aldermen in May 2000, remains on
the books, but the government leadership has failed to implement it. The Fraternal Order of
Police filed for an injunction, claiming that subpoena power is unconstitutional. The Court
of Appeals in February 2003, ruled that there was nothing to rule on. So the ordinance exists!
This 2000 ordinance is the will of the people. CAPA went door to door asking people to sign
postcards that were sent to the city reps and a county-wide Bluegrass Poll said that 73% want
a civilian review board. It is legal and the people want it, so it needs to be fully funded
Experiences from around the country, according to the ACLU, seem to suggest that the police
fight tooth and nail to prevent review boards from coming into existence to begin with. Then,
when it becomes politically inevitable that civilian review will be adopted, former police
opponents suddenly become civilian review experts and propose the weakest possible models.
And newly established civilian review boards still often must fight police opposition to
its budget, authority, access to information, etc.
In Louisville, it took years of organizing work and a broad coalition to get a civilian
review ordinance. The memories of James Taylor, Marshall Marbly, Antwan Bryant, Adrian Reynolds,
Desmond Rudolph, Clifford Lewis, Rodney Abernathy, Robert Whitlow, Fidencio Campos-Cruz,
James Taylor and all the other victims of law enforcement violence demand us to be persistent
and defend what we have gained.
Citizens clapped and cheered at the Board of Aldermen meeting at City Hall, Louisville,
KY in May 2000.
The Board just overrode the mayor's veto of an ordinance establishing a Civilian Police
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