In Police-public Relations, Civilian Review Has No Place

County forum

September 22, 1991|By Robert E. Rutan For | Robert E. Rutan For,The Howard County Sun

As a member of the Howard County Citizens Advisory Council for Public Safety, I must reply to Michael James' article, "Panel rejects proposed civilian review board for police" (The Howard County Sun, Sept. 15).

The article is replete with misinformation, quotes taken out of context and innuendo regarding the competence and integrity of thecouncil. It fails to give your reader an in-depth analysis of the extensive amount of research that is the basis for the council's findings.

At the 25 meetings held by this council, the council was presented with much information and expertise, both pro and con, concerning the operation, methods of appointment, success and failure of civilianreview boards throughout the United States.

We, as a group, determined that a civilian review board is not the best method to allay "negative perceptions" of the Howard County Police Department, if they exist.

Let me give you just a few of those reasons.

* A civilian review board, contrary to the article, does not investigate complaints against police. These boards do not receive complaints against the police. They investigate the findings of the Internal Affairs Division's investigation of a complaint filed against a police officer or officers after the IAD has completed its investigation. The object ofthe civilian review board is to investigate the IAD's work, and not to bring complaints of citizens against the police to the Internal Affairs Division.

* These boards are composed of citizens who are not trained or schooled in police activities. They may be dedicated andintelligent people, but many times, they are more emotionally involved in a case than they are in good, sound investigative techniques.

* Many civilian review boards take an inordinate amount of time to complete an investigation and to come up with a recommendation. In the meantime, while their investigation is in progress, the officer whom the complaint is against is still left in limbo. His career is in jeopardy, his reputation is in question before his peers, and his effectiveness on the job is diminished.

* The cost alone of supportinga civilian review board and the potential for liability suits against the county would be prohibitive. It would profit a select few for as long as they could protract their time.

I would like to point out that County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray did not attend a singlemeeting of this council, and I resent his unfounded and derogatory remarks, as quoted, that we have no "viable recommendations."

Our council members served voluntarily, at no cost to the county, and worked many hours researching for our respective subcommittee's report investigating all aspects of the Howard County Police Department.

Our heads were not "buried in the sand,"for we do recognize that there is no organization which cannot be improved. Our final recommendations to the county executive will bear this out.

The "negative perception" of police to which Mr. Gray refers will not be changed by a civilian review board. It is not a panacea for community ills.

Mr. Sheldon Greenberg, associate director of the Police Executive Research Forum, the largest and most executive law enforcement research organization in the country, explained to our council how civilian review boards operate.

They are a costly and unnecessary bureaucratic process composed of citizens unskilled in police service who are reviewing one of the most critical applications of police work, that is, deadly force issues.

The reasons for establishing a civilian review board can be addressed through other means. Greenberg encouraged the council to focus on the problems with police/community relations, breakthem down into segments, and address those segments.

Citizens canand should become involved in police service by having groups focusing on specific issues; for example, black/white problems, police/youth relations, police training, recruitment and selection.

There canbe more citizen involvement in how beats are aligned, in crime analysis and resource allocation.

A citizen task force can address concerns of those who feel they are not getting the service or response from the police depart

ment in order to resolve a problem, but a civilian review board is not the outlet or forum for such needs.

Although two members of our council criticized our survey as "amateurish" and "unscientific," the survey was a valid one. I personally read every one of the responses.

The survey proved the great majority ofthe citizens do not have a "negative perception" of the Howard County Police Department.

To the contrary, they support the police and want more of them. They requested seminars on crime prevention and neighborhood watch programs in community centers and schools.

The public needs to be educated about police service. We do not need negative criticism that paves the way toward destructive trends, which a civilian review board would do.

I have been labeled pro-police, and I am. It is police who protect me and ensure my safety, but I would be first to denounce a renegade police officer and advocate his or herremoval.

An effective police force must be strong from within, but it also needs the support and encouragement from the community it serves.

The community therefore must get a clear perspective of itspolice department, and it must work to dispel myths of a negative perception that will only erode it.

Robert Rutan lives in Columbia.

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