A Popular Police Reform Disappoints Many

NYPD in lined up on street
Via Flickr
William Anderson
December 21, 2020

Civilian review and oversight boards are supposed to help people hold the police accountable. Unfortunately, this reform has been around for a long time – and it’s not solving the problem, despite the fact people repeatedly recommend it. One city shows why.

In New York City, the Civilian Complaint Review Board is an independent agency. They’re supposed to investigate complaints about officers and be able to recommend penalties. But that’s not exactly how things are going. The problem has to do with who has final say.

The police commissioner can downgrade or even dismiss penalties without an explanation! Police also withhold evidence. It happens often, and New York has had their board for over 70 years. Things play out similarly in other cities too, if they even have one. But there’s a larger problem here.

Conceptually, civilian review and oversight boards treat policing with a legitimacy it has long lost with Black America. In some cases it can even lead to more resources for police, which drain budgets of the resources needed to combat the problems we face. We can fix this.

Policing is the problem, because police brutality is killing Black people. This isn’t an isolated incident issue, where “bad apples” are exceptions to the rule. Decades-old reforms are not working, so it’s time to go further and deprioritize trying to fix the police – when they’re not broken!

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