Strained relations between police and the public across the U.S. have put a spotlight on independent civilian oversight groups, many of which are far from effective, say experts and even some of the groups’ members, Scripps News reports. “I think in many communities, the relationship with police is somewhere between tense and a ticking time bomb,” said Kisha Brown, who a oversees Baltimore’s Civilian Review Board. Oversight groups that work with an independent investigator and have more than advisory power are hard to find. Scripps News reached out to the more than 200 civilian oversight organizations in the nation and found that nearly two-thirds of those that responded don't have their own investigators. They rely on police department internal affairs officers to determine if a fellow officer went too far.
That's troublesome, experts say. “They may not have asked the appropriate follow-up questions or investigated contradictions in what the officer has said,” said Samuel Walker of the University of Nebraska Omaha. “Some (boards) do have the power to reject what internal affairs does and send it back for further investigation,” Walker said. “That's good, but you still have to take on faith that they've reinvestigated, asked the questions and have got it right this time. But I think taking it on faith isn't good enough.” By law, many oversight boards' findings are merely advisory, even if board members conclude an officer engaged in misconduct. In those places it's ultimately the police chief who determines whether an officer crossed the line and if there's a need for discipline. There is often disagreement between boards and the police departments.