A recent conversation at the Beaumont City Council concerning a citizen review board to oversee police activities brought to mind legislation I proposed some time back when a member of the Senate.
I agree wholeheartedly that police forces in a democratic society should have oversight and be controlled by civilian authorities. I firmly believe the vast majority of policemen are well-intentioned, honest and take seriously their commission to preserve and protect the Constitution of the United States and to serve the public. There are, however, those who develop an “us against them” attitude; and probably too many good police officers who will not tell on the bad ones.
I’m equally convinced a citizen review board is not in the best interest of good law enforcement, good local government, or a unifying force in any city. Civilian review boards too often become political and their decisions oftentimes rest on emotion rather than an objective review of the facts.
During a long, expensive and thorough investigation of police conduct some years back, I discovered some very disturbing facts about some local police departments. For example, I learned that two policemen who were caught red-handed burglarizing a bar, loading whiskey cases into the back of their patrol car. They were given the opportunity to resign rather than to be prosecuted. These two policemen went about 20 miles down the road and were, within a few weeks, employed by another city’s police force.
And, I know of one situation where deputy sheriffs were involved in a house burglary. Although there was adequate proof of this crime, the sheriff involved simply shrugged off the complaints and continued the employment of the deputies. There was no further appeal for the civilians complaining of the conduct of these police officers.
There certainly should be an avenue of rational appeal for a citizen who is aggrieved or concerned about unlawful or unethical conduct of a police officer.
To that end, my proposal would have involved a statute which provided that any citizen who had a complaint concerning a peace officer must first register that complaint in writing with the chief of police, head constable, sheriff, or whichever person was ultimate supervisor of the officer involved. After a reasonable opportunity to investigate the matter, the ranking officer would be required to report if any remedial conduct had occurred concerning the officer or punishment.
If the citizen then was unsatisfied with the answer or result, the citizen could appeal the matter in writing to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education [TCLEOSE]. One must have a certification from TCLEOSE in order to have the right to act as a peace officer, carry a weapon, etc. TCLEOSE would then be required to have an investigative branch with procedures for an orderly hearing where evidence could be presented both for the peace officer involved and the complainant.
The TCLEOSE board, itself, would be the ultimate arbiter of the facts and would have the authority to issue reprimands, suspensions or revocation of a peace officer’s right to serve as a peace officer. This would give an orderly process, would take it out of local politics, reduce the chance of emotional and divisive friction in a city and provide a fair hearing to both the accused peace officer and the aggrieved citizen.
Like many of my wonderful ideas, however, advocates of civilian review boards didn’t think it was strong enough, and peace officers viewed it with suspicion. Therefore, it never got a meaningful hearing in the legislative process.
Maybe it’s time, however, for someone else to give it a try.