ACTION BRIEF

Civilian Review Boards

Issue

Recent high-profile cases of police shootings and killings, such as those of Jacob Blake and Breonna Taylor, highlight the significant risk of harm and death when excessive force practices are perpetrated with impunity. The lack of criminal charges and convictions against officers involved in these incidents reveals a failure of police internal review proceedings to provide adequate oversight and accountability. This underscores the need for independent citizen review boards with the authority to investigate complaints of police brutality, discrimination, and other misconduct.Key Statistics and Facts:

  • There are approximately 150 civilian review boards affiliated with large police departments in the U.S.

  • Analysis of civilian oversight boards in major cities reveals that only about 40% had the authority to subpoena witnesses, and about 50% had the authority to subpoena records.

  • A significant factor preventing successful substantiated citizen complaints is the requirement that charges against police must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt or by a preponderance of the evidence, depending on the jurisdiction.

  • Even when questionable police behaviors are documented by officer-worn body camera recordings, the extremely high standard of preponderance of evidence is often not met.Recommendations:

The Center for Justice Research recommends the following actions for state, local, and federal lawmakers, mayors, law enforcement, and other key stakeholders:1. Establish civilian review boards in jurisdictions that currently do not have any.

  1. Review and revise “reasonable doubt” and/or “preponderance of evidence” standards of proof for establishing police misconduct.

  2. Grant civilian oversight boards subpoena authority to review all video/audio and documents and compel witness testimony.

  3. Provide training to civilian oversight boards on lawful interpretations of agency-specific standards of proof, police officer profiles, and other required information needed to make informed decisions.