The criminal justice profession requires monitoring and regulation from an independent agency. This is because the profession may not be able to retain its members who engage in misconduct as they carry out their work. The increasing brutality from the police has necessitated various human rights groups to lobby for the setting up civilian review boards. This was considered as a way of having the implicated police officers investigated and prosecuted in cases where it was proved that they had acted unethically.
Thus, civilian review boards have stewardship responsibility to the society to act in their best interest. However, given the circumstances under which the boards operate, their relationship to the justice profession in executing the role of ethical oversight is interwoven to the extent that it could be difficult for them to perform their duties without the support of the police.
This paper provides a critical response on the relationship of civilian review boards to ethical oversight in the criminal justice profession. The critical response integrates the Saint Leo University core value of responsible steward over citizens that they protect, regardless of the discipline or position in which they work.
Key words: civilian review boards, ethical oversight, criminal justice profession, misconduct
Civilian review boards play a crucial role in ensuring ethical oversight by the police in a judicial system. This is because the policing profession occasionally fails to reassure the public that it has the capacity to hold police officers accountable for their actions. This has also led to a widespread belief by the public that civilian review boards are necessary. The boards can effectively hold ethical oversight committees accountable by coming up with the acceptable ethical conducts within the criminal justice profession.
However, studies have shown that many civilian review boards have also failed in playing this essential role. Some of their members have been seen to develop interest in certain behaviors, which are contrary to the ethical conducts required of them within the criminal justice profession. The criminal justice professionals also develop resistance to the activities of the review boards. They also have other problems including unrealistic expectations, lack of political goodwill, and poor planning.
Thus, civilian review boards find themselves in a dilemma of creating a working relationship with the criminal justice profession while at the same time maintaining impartial and independence in the execution of their roles. Therefore, the ethical oversight functions at the crossroad of this dilemma (Livingston, 2004).
The existence of civilian review boards emanated from the increasing belief by the public that criminal justice professionals could not adequately investigate themselves for misconduct. This view led to the various civil right groups agitating for the formation of civilian review boards with the mandate of ensuring ethical standards were observed and followed during the investigation of any police officer alleged to have engaged in any wrongdoing.
Many oversight procedures that civilian review boards use have come to exist in the time of high profile cases, where officers in the justice profession are accused of misconduct. Such misconduct includes such acts as fatal shootings or the use of physical force against the public.
In many cases, civilian review boards have come into existence under special circumstances like ethnic allegations of racial discriminations. They are majorly a result of the reaction from the public in the wake of allegations of misconduct in the criminal justice profession. As such, the boards are mostly treated as antagonistic to the justice profession because their institution and mandate are for the public (Keane & Bell, 2012).
Civilian review boards serve the role of responsible stewardship through fostering a spirit of service by employing their resource in assisting in community development. Thus, civilian review boards are expected to be ethically resourceful to their community. This is achieved through optimization and application of the resources assigned to them to meet the objectives of the society in which they act.
As a result, there is a danger that civilian review boards are likely to be biased in their approach to the issues and complaints against the police and justice profession. This is because there is a feeling among the board members that they are only accountable to the people who have given them the mandate to serve.
Therefore, they are keen to ensure that the public does not miss justice. Thus, the civilian review boards are not considered as independent entities within the police profession with certain principles. The boards are rather seen as a puppet of the public to prosecute the police profession. Besides the financial support, adequate functioning of civilian review boards largely depends on the continuous support they receive from the public and the police (Keane & Bell, 2012).
The ethical oversight role is presumed to be self-evident given the legal and judicial process that the boards are given in life. Such incidences as the Rodney King police beating, which was widely publicized through the media along with many other historic injustices committed by the police against the public, acted as the thriving force behind the call for accountability in the U.S. police.
Thus, civilian review boards do not act on their own accord. They base their mandate on the alleged and documented misconduct by police officers which amounts to a contravention of the responsibilities of the police force.
By 2004, all criminal justice departments in the United States were subjected to the work of civilian oversight boards. This happened even as the boards became commonplace in the American society because of their ability to satisfy the needs of most people. As the review boards have become commonplace cases of injustice and misconduct in the criminal justice professionals have sharply decreased.
However, the situation is not long sustained as they face challenges in planning and financing as well as conflict of interest from board members. This has been the greatest undoing of the boards. They started relating with the criminal justice professions not from a legal and ethical point of view but from the point of interest of both the board members and the officers who are accused of misconduct (Porter, 2013).
The civilian review boards are primarily thought to work for the interest of the public and thus become a threaded institution by police officers. This makes ethical oversight difficult to achieve as justice officers act cautiously in the knowledge that their actions will be investigated by an independent body.
Thus, many police officers strike a cautious relationship with civilian review boards as they seek to reduce the potential allegations of misconduct. The beginning of a civilian review board term is also characterized by an overflow of complaints from the public against the police. This may also interfere with the kind of relationship that the members establish in carrying out their duties as an ethical oversight agency. In this regard, the police profession is first viewed to be full of misconduct.
Therefore, civilian review boards stand the risk of starting their work on a false basis implying a rot in the police profession. Because most of the matters and issues that are investigated by civilian review boards are of criminal dimension, the board still needs input from the justice profession. However, most members of the board do not normally have a background in law enforcement and, therefore, are likely to misunderstand the proper policy procedures (Prenzler, 2004).
Moreover, the fact that civilian review boards still depend on justice professionals to help them understand the procedures and policies related to law enforcement means that the two entities are not mutually exclusive. They work at a crossroads of conflicting interests. Civilian review boards also work amid the fear that they can easily cause a loss of control in the police profession as police chiefs start to think that their officers are controlled and monitored by the public.
In such circumstances, the justice profession is likely to be relaxed in the enforcement of ethical conduct within its force. This will cause an avalanche of work to the board thereby interfering with their performance. If there is a backlog of unfinished investigation, police officers are likely to get away with the allegations because the civilian review boards charged with the mandate of investigating and present their findings to the relevant authority are overwhelmed by the amount of work.
To this end, the investigation and conclusion of cases by the civilian review boards still depend on the willingness of the justice profession to accord them the needed support to do their work (Pitcher, Birotte & Sibley, 2010).
In conclusion, despite the fact that the proliferation of civilian review boards is witnessed across many jurisdictions and many enforcement agencies in the country, there is a primary challenge in the relationship or lack of the same between the justice profession and oversight personnel in promoting ethical conduct amongst the profession. Civilian review boards are increasingly facing stiff resistance from law enforcement departments even as political goodwill continues to diminish.
As a result of the dynamic and challenging factors, civilian civil board members are forced to relate to the criminal justice profession in a way other than as envisaged in their mandate. This has negated the essence of the existence of civilian review boards in any society.