Increasingly, law enforcement agencies across the country are organizing and implementing community review of their policy manuals. These departments, communities and community review board members should be commended for their commitment to safe, effective and community-specific policing. But conducting a community review board for police policy requires clear expectations, well-defined roles and terms, and identified policies that are up for review. It’s critical for agencies and committee members to enter the review board process with a set process and common goal in mind to avoid disillusionment and ensure meetings and recommendations are productive.
We’ve compiled the top 10 recommendations from law enforcement experts when it comes to developing and working with a community review board on police policies. Departments should have at least one representative from the agency, alongside a diverse set of committee members that represent the different languages, ethnicities, perspectives and professions of the community. With such a diverse group, it’s exceedingly important to ensure everyone is on the same page and unified in the goal of creating safe, effective and relevant policies.
#1: Provide Opportunities to Speak
Leaders must guard against the potential for some members of the review board to dominate the discussion. Because the purpose of a community review board is to have the agency and community benefit from a diversity of perspectives, make sure a single point of view does not dominate, allowing all participants to have the chance to have their voices heard.
#2: Educate Committee Members
Most committee members likely have knowledge of law enforcement operations and policy limited to what they have seen in movies and TV. The agency should conduct training and/or orientation for review board members to offer them greater insight and shared knowledge of policing practices.
#3: Define Terms
Commonly used policy language must be defined to create a common understanding among all community review board members. When terms such as “shall,” “should” and “may” are properly defined, committee members can more accurately understand and weigh in on potential policy changes, knowing the role of specific legal language.
#4: Set Roles & Boundaries
Make sure committee members are aware of what their role is on the review board and in policy recommendations and updates. Determine how differences in opinion on the board will be reconciled and clearly explain how suggested policy changes will be accepted or rejected by department leadership and why. This will help avoid frustration and disillusionment within the committee and from the public, increasing transparency and accountability.
#5: Choose Policies
It likely isn’t feasible to review every single policy in your policy manual – and your committee probably isn’t interested in your sick leave, travel or email policies. As your department establishes the community review board, take time to decide which policies from your manual the board is slated to review. Common policies include use of force, handcuffing and restraints, and hate crimes.
#6: Maintain Community Focus
While it can be easy to focus on national or regional incidents involving police, community review boards must stay focused on their own community. In doing so, committee members can limit distractions and ensure community issues are front and center in every meeting and discussion.
Conducting a community review board for police policy requires clear expectations, well-defined roles and terms, and identified policies to review.
#7: Understand Transparency & Collaboration
Agencies should strive to be fully transparent about every policy, but it’s important to be clear about what policies are up for debate and which are not. Community review boards provide a unique opportunity for police-community engagement and collaboration, but police and community safety must remain the central focus – and sometimes, specific policies and policy language are the way to accomplish that.
#8: Remember Federal & State Laws
Policy content based in federal or state law should remain relatively unchanged. Remember, while your committee and community may desire a policy language change, that doesn’t change the language or letter of the law. Limit these types of changes to ensure your agency and community are in line with what the law calls for.
#9: Avoid Semantics
Don’t allow the community review board to get caught up in semantics. Does the word change impact the legal meaning of the policy or the way the policy affects operations? If so, in what ways? If not, the change is probably unnecessary. Limiting changes based on semantics can help save time and effort for all parties.
#10: Align Policy & Practice
When policy and practice don’t align, the disconnect can be devastating and discouraging to committee members and the community as a whole. As you review policies and recommendations, see how they currently align with your practices and how practice may need to change as a result. Is each policy applicable, practical and functional? Are the policies possible and reasonable to implement? Preparing for this reality ahead of time and appropriately setting your, your personnel and the community review board’s expectations can make all the difference.
When done right, community review boards can be incredibly effective, giving community members a voice and improving the safety and professionalism of the police force. Not only do these committees help build trust between the community and law enforcement, they also lead to community-centric policies that address the specific needs and priorities of those you serve.