Having residents look over the shoulder of the Eugene (Or.) Police Department as it investigates complaints against officers would be a novelty in the city. The practice is common elsewhere, says the Eugene Register-Guard. Several of the nation’s largest cities, including Portland and Seattle, have police watchdogs that monitor the investigation of complaints against officers. Some cities and counties use an ombudsman, commonly referred to as an auditor; others have commissions, also called civilian review boards. Some use a combination of both.
In Eugene, advocates want both. In the Nov. 8 election, Eugene voters are being asked to give the City Council the authority to hire an auditor and appoint a civilian review board to monitor the investigation of complaints against police officers. Criminal justice expert Sam Walker, recently retired from the University of Nebraska, said cities can benefit from having auditors oversee the investigation of complaints against officers. Auditor recommendations often lead to reforms that reduce police misconduct, he said. In Los Angeles County, auditors determined that the sheriff’s department had lax rules about the use of police dogs, he said. After the auditor’s reforms were adopted, the number of dog bites dropped 90 percent. Walker is less impressed with civilian review boards because they tend to focus on allegations of misconduct rather than on the root causes of the problems. “A civilian review board will look at particular cases, so it looks at the symptoms,” he said. “The auditor gets to the cause, and will play a much more effective role.”