Research Assessment #2

Date: September 10, 2016

Subject: Citizen Oversight of the Police



            Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Or rather, who will guard the guards themselves? As police violence and community responses have become regular stories in the news, we have to ask ourselves this question. The documentary Policing the Police raises many questions, such as: should local police departments be in charge of watching themselves? Should state and federal governments invest their money in monitoring the actions of local officers?

In a government for the people, by the people, the idea of a police department for the people, with the people does not seem out of place. Without an authoritarian government, why would a community have an authoritarian police force? Despite the assumption, thirty-four cities have been ordered to reform their police departments, under the direction of the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ). Many communities and their police departments live in distrust of one another, for reasons I believe are rooted in the lack of a clear definition of “reasonable suspicion,” and when it can be acted upon. Police stops and searches, as well as the usage of physical force require filed reports within the local police department, however, the neglect to write these reports has caused the DoJ to investigate whether police departments are violating human rights.

As I continue to study public policy, I aim to work towards improving interactions between police departments, local governments, and communities. While the community cannot be given full power over their police department, especially in a time with such animosity between the two groups, the community deserves a say in their police department. For the government to be truly for the people, I believe that the police officers should work in the interest of their communities.

With riots and police misconduct flooding news channels, many people are looking for a policy solution. In such a diverse country, though, I cannot see one solution solving the issues in our communities. I cannot see fifty solutions solving these issues. As every city differs from the next one over, police reform has to come from the people of the city. I believe that the DoJ should provide a clearer definition and usage of “reasonable suspicion,” however suburbs do not see the same crimes that major cities do. While the DoJ can initiate reforms for the nation, municipal governments and their people with police officers should be given the responsibility to identify issues within their neighborhoods and how to solve them.

As policies should be implemented with the people in mind, I think that public records of police reports, with proper measures taken in privacy concerns, should be made available to citizens and communities. This would allow the people to hold the police accountable for their actions, which would promote a community where the police and the civilians live with amiability, not animosity. Such an action would create many possible reaction situations from different civilians, though. As I continue to further my research, I will examine how people and their political biases effect whether a policy, such as one with community accountability efforts, can be safely and wisely passed. Community members understand their cities more than federal officials do, leading me to a conclusion that accountability efforts should be performed locally.

However, as with any issue, reform efforts have to come from both sides. Trust is essential to a positive relationship between a town and its police department. I do not believe that any community accountability policies would see success without a policy change regarding police involvement. As I continue to relate oversight policies to their basis in a government by the people, I believe that officers removed from their community contribute to the idea that the police department is a secretive authority. If we see our neighbors as our police officers, though, I think that cities would begin to establish a sense of unity between the people and the police department.

Through a policy lense, police misconduct is an incredibly challenging issue. Understanding that what works in one city will not work in another is essential towards a legislative solution. I believe that as a nation, we should come together to establish clear definitions, to prevent violations of human rights that the DoJ has investigated in multiple cities. Beyond that, though, I believe that the most efficient solutions will come from positive police outreach into their communities, as well as an accountability system by the people.

MLA Citations: 

Policing the Police. Prod. James Jacoby and Anya Bourg. Perf. James Jacoby. PBS Frontline.

PBS, 28 June 2016. Web. 09 Sept. 2016.