It is very difficult for an organization to have credibility with both the community of people who believe they are mistreated by law enforcement and the police unless a great deal of preparation occurs prior to an incident that sparks the conflict. The attempt to build public agency systems for addressing complaints against law enforcement generally follow one of three models:
1. Investigate complaints against police independent of the police internal affairs process;
2. Audit the police internal affairs investigation, make additional inquiries as deemed necessary and arrive at independent conclusions;
3. Monitor the police internal affairs investigation and make recommendations aimed at amending policies and procedures to prevent recurrence of the causes for the complaints.
No model is the preferred method for addressing complaints. However, these models are seen as a “best practice” in preventing and responding to complaints by a community of people. The inherent danger of utilizing any of these models is recognizing that these processes can be slow and are sometimes so politicized that the reviewing entity must be neutral in posture to maintain credibility with both the law enforcement agency and the community.
There are many police review entities in the State of California. They include:
City of Los Angeles
City of San Diego
City of San Jose
County of Los Angeles
County of San Diego
City of Long Beach
City of Oakland
City of Berkeley
City of Davis
City of Santa Cruz
City of Claremont
City of San Francisco
City of Sacramento
City of Inglewood
City of Richmond
City of National City
City of Novato
City of Sausalito
City of Riverside
Each city or county has procedures for how to make a complaint against the law enforcement agency and what to expect during the process. It is helpful to look at your city’s or county’s Web page for criteria and specific instructions on how to make a complaint. Remember, police review agencies or commissions do not guarantee that the disposition of your complaint will be resolved to your satisfaction; merely that there is a method in place to begin the complaint process.
CAHRO is a strong advocate for community policing as a vehicle for preventing conflicts between law enforcement agencies and the communities they are charged with serving. If police agencies have a strong, positive reputation for helping neighborhoods address causes of crimes by providing resources and support, we believe they will establish avenues of communication that will prevent major conflicts from escalating.
Community policing is a philosophy that has been embraced by many law enforcement agencies in the state of California. As police departments shift to the organizational philosophy of community based policing, and realign their internal structures to commit resources, police departments transform their mission to function in the neighborhood-policing model. Embracing this model causes department employees to become more sensitive to the emerging changes in demographics and culture of our residents, current crime trends, business concerns and quality of life issues. Ancillary changes include enhanced focus on people-skill training for police personnel—which include customer service, conflict resolution, quality service orientation, positive communications, and collaboration skills. Communities benefit when police departments engage in the community in mutual understanding of what the role of law enforcement is related to enforcement, responsibility, and problem solving. Conversely, it is in law enforcement’s benefit to recognize community stakeholder assets to work as a partnership as “co-producers” of crime reduction, livability issues and complaint reduction by the communities.
The more open communication and dialogue that exists between law enforcement and their local communities, the more likely these respective partners will take ownership of the conditions of their neighborhoods and seek mutual understanding to address issues that cause marginalization and disenfranchisement. Additionally, open and positive communication between law enforcement and the community fosters trust. When the community trusts law enforcement, the more likely the community will be open-minded when a critical incident or conflict occurs that generates public unrest. Less community complaints occur when there are strong collaborative partnerships between law enforcement and the community.