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Many Cities Created Civilian Police Oversight Boards After Floyd Death

A record number of cities have created or revamped civilian review boards to provide accountability for police misconduct after George Floyd’s murder.

Fort Worth, Tx., Madison, Wi., and Columbus, Oh., were among 25 major cities to launch a civilian oversight agency from 2020 to 2021 – more than were created in the five preceding years combined, according to a University of Chicago study, reports News21.

The study found more cities are adapting “multitiered, multifunctional oversight systems” with greater scopes of power and authority, emboldened by the political momentum of the George Floyd protests. It said 71 of the top 100 most populous U.S. cities had some form of a civilian oversight board.

“Every community has its own history with law enforcement when looking at oversight structure, and there has to be work with all the stakeholders so it’s done with, instead of to, the community,” said Cameron McEllhiney, training and education director for the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement.

The hyperlocal nature of civilian oversight can make it thrive, he said, but it also means evaluating the success of any such agency can be a challenge. “Measuring efficacy is the million dollar question,” McEllhiney said.

Designed to increase civilian sway over police functions and operations, the groups vary in power, influence and resources. A handful can subpoena witnesses, others can only make recommendations for disciplinary measures, which police administrators can overturn. Some take a broad look at policy, while others have investigatory powers.

Supporters say the best oversight boards can deliver accountability and increase the public’s understanding of police. But law enforcement officials often are wary.

“There is resistance by police officers or law enforcement because of their concerns that review boards don’t have much understanding of what they’re up against, the quick decisions they need to make with limited time and a real feel for the day-to-day encounters on the street,” said Tim Dimoff, a security consultant near Akron, Oh., who has worked with such boards.

Others contend that too many boards lack power and deliver nothing more than a placebo of public reassurance.

In Raleigh, N.C., Black Lives Matter activists blasted civilian-oversight efforts as “facades for accountability” because state law prohibited subpoena powers and the ability to discipline officers. Utah lawmakers banned civilian oversight bodies from having authority over police department decisions. Newark, New Jersey, sought to establish a civilian review board but was stymied by a police union lawsuit, in which the state court ruled to limit the board’s powers.

“If the only reason or even the primary reason to get involved in civilian oversight was the outcome of cases, I would not be doing this work,” said Roger Smith, director of the Office of Accountability and Transparency in Phoenix. “It’s way too depressing on that front. But the great benefit of it is that it empowers the community to get involved in the process of shaping their policing in the future.”


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