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Success stories

What does successful oversight look like? These are some examples of how civilian oversight can make a difference.

Denver, Colorado

In 2018, in response to pressure from the Office of the Independent Monitor, the Denver Police Department revised its use-of-force policies and saw an immediate drop in incidents. Use of force during arrests in the first six months of 2019 declined more than 21 percent compared to the previous three years. 1 “FBI statistics show that Denver’s violent crime rate fell roughly 8 percent between 2005, when the monitor’s office launched, and 2018, the latest numbers.” 2

Must Haves for Success

Independence

Strong subpoena power

Membership reflects the diversity of the community

Consistent support from the jurisdiction’s governing body

Adequate funding

Ability to take complaints directly from residents

New Orleans, Louisiana

According to Stella Cziment, the acting independent police monitor, the Office of the Independent Monitor has made “a ‘huge impact’ in changing the police system.” She cited the 2015 formation of the NOPD’s Use of Force Review Board and a policy requiring the NOPD release all body-worn camera footage of officer-involved shootings within 10 days, among other changes. Officer-involved shootings in the NOPD went down significantly, from 20 reported in 2012 to 9 reported in 2019, and none reported in 2018. 3

Newark, New Jersey

“Newark (has) a temporary independent monitor in place as part of a federal consent decree. This has resulted in a number of positive changes in policing, reducing unconstitutional stops, searches, arrests, excessive force and theft by city officers, and focusing on community engagement Advocates think the peaceful nature of Newark’s protests over Floyd’s death is due not only to the efforts of local residents, but also to recent changes in policing. Among them: de-escalation training—required by the consent decree—and deciding not to send police equipped with military gear to the protests.” As a result, in 2020 there were no police shootings for the first time. 4

Los Angeles County, California

After the Civilian Oversight Commission found that the cost of transferring people to from jail to I.C.E. was $2,000 per transfer, the Sheriff ended the policy.

Even without Sheriff support, civilian oversight has an impact

Sacramento County

The Sheriff’s barring of the Inspector General from the jail helped motivate passage of AB 1185, which authorizes counties to establish a sheriff oversight board, an office of the inspector general, and subpoena power for both.

Santa Clara County

The Sheriff obstructed oversight in a case that left a mentally ill inmate with brain damage and led to a $10 million settlement paid by the county. Her obstruction led to her indictment for corruption and misconduct by a grand jury. 5

Citations
  1. Denver Police Use-of-Force Incidents During Arrests Down 21 Percent, Westword
  2. The long battle for civilian oversight of the police, Center for Public Integrity
  3. Police oversight boards are proliferating, but do they actually work?, ABC News
  4. With no police shootings in 2020, Newark makes case for consent decrees, KSBY News
  5. Santa Clara County Sheriff Declines to Answer Corruption Allegations in Court, NBC Bay Area