Do more American cities need to establish civilian police review boards? Does Meriden need one?
Communities across the country have been placing greater scrutiny on how policing is done — lately with a particular emphasis on police killings — as well as implicit racial bias. This follows the protest demonstrations that have been taking place since Memorial Day.
That was the day when George Floyd, a black man, was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis. Then, on June 12, another black man, Rayshard Brooks, was killed by police in Atlanta. And before that there were Breonna Taylor, in Louisville; and Atatiana Jefferson, in Miami; and Stephon Clark, in Sacramento; and Botham Jean, in Dallas.
Then, during the demonstrations, we saw instances of excessive and unnecessary violence inflicted by police on demonstrators and members of the press.
Police departments today hold themselves to standards of behavior befitting modern law enforcement organizations. Factor in dash cams and body cams and the fact that almost everybody has a cell phone these days, and cover-ups have become more difficult.
But bad actions by “bad apple” cops can still be hidden behind the solid Blue Wall of silence, and appropriate discipline can still be thwarted by zealous unions. There have been police review boards in some cities that consisted only of a handful of senior or retired police brass. That’s not good enough.
At any rate, Meriden city councilors are now looking into establishing an independent civilian board that would review use-of-force complaints against the police department.
Residents have approached councilors in recent weeks about creating an independent review body, the purpose of which “would be to add some level of transparency to the review and follow-up of the use of force,” Council Majority Leader David Lowell said in introducing the idea during a recent virtual meeting.
Lowell emphasized the effort isn’t an indictment of the department.
“The men and women of our police department do a fantastic job,” he said. “This is in no way against the police department and all the good they do in Meriden.”
Still, the idea has been brought up and is at least being considered. But there are many hoops to jump through, including a referral to the Public Safety Committee, and possibly a “study group” to examine whether a review board is needed in Meriden and, if so, to make recommendations for the makeup and scope of the body.
The city would do well to seriously consider creating a civilian police review board. After all (as a reader pointed out in a recent letter to the editor), the school system is run by a superintendent, but he reports to the Board of Education. Even the manager of the municipal golf course must answer to a board.
Why, then, should the one local agency that’s authorized to use force — even lethal force — against citizens be under the oversight of just one person, the police chief?