This is a difficult arena. 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 themselves unless a great deal of preparation occurs prior to an incident occurring. The attempt to build public agency systems for addressing complaints against law enforcement generally follow one of three models.
- Investigate complaints against police independent of the police internal affairs process;
- Audit the police internal affairs investigation, make additional inquiries as deemed necessary and arrive at independent conclusions;
- Monitor the police internal affairs investigation and make recommendations aimed at amending policies and procedures to prevent recurrence of the causes for the complaints.
We do not list any of these models as a best practice in preventing and responding to complaints by a community of people, because they are too slow and generally so politicized that the reviewing entity will not be able to maintain credibility with both the law enforcement agency and the community.
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 relationship 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.
There is one model in the developmental stage that may turn into a best practice but we feel it is too early to recommend it.
Oakland Conciliation Forums is part of a pilot project that includes Community Boards and the San Francisco Police Department, and Berkeley Dispute Resolution Services with the Berkeley Police Department. Conciliation Forums is a non-profit organization working with the Oakland Police Department as it is reorganizing to a neighborhood based community policing model. The organization provides training to Oakland police officers so that they are aware of the project and its availability as a resource to respond to multi-party disputes. It also conducts community trainings so that organizations become aware of the availability of dispute resolution services when a law enforcement presence is not necessary. Through numerous interactions in training and in responding to disputes as a resource, the organization has gained credibility with Oakland police officers. It is beginning to be called on to mediate disputes between personnel of the police department and other agencies. A logical next step would be for Conciliation Forums to be accepted as a vehicle for resolving complaints between members of the community and the police department. We will follow the development of the project and if it takes the next step successfully we will list it as a best practice.
Contact: Ilene Gusfield, Director, Conciliation Forums (510) 763-2117.