Sometimes the result a single critical incident, communities and law enforcement agencies may organize a civilian oversight board to independently review

police conduct and complaints in an effort to provide accountability and influence reform. Typically, a civilian oversight board is comprised of stakeholders, community principals, police representation, and civil rights leaders. Variation in the mission and composition of civilian boards is present, however. Some boards may emphasize investigation, while others only review incidents and complaints or audit internal investigations (Lynch and Stone). Frequently, civilian boards may investigate incidents and complaints through agency internal affairs investigations and may make recommendations to their law enforcement agency or municipality based on their conclusions.

Liliana Perez, director of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE), described the role of civilian oversight boards as, “. . . the bridge-building mechanism between the citizens and the police department that serves them. Their role is to be impartial and to ensure that things are being fairly and thoroughly addressed.” However, Cato Institute director Tim Lynch opined, “I tend to be skeptical of the track record of civilian review boards. I think they have several weaknesses- they’re very vulnerable to local political manipulations (Boghani, 2016).” Though Lynch was concerned by the influence of board members with a law enforcement background, the influence of politically motivated or agenda-driven board members may also influence a board’s decisions and activity.

The "better" civilian review boards were viewed as organizations with independence (Lynch and Stone). Lynch and Stone did not address objectivity or training in the use of force or human performance in their criteria for exceptional civilian oversight boards, or any relevancy those elements could have on the credibility and independence of a civilian board.

The Supreme Court decided, "The 'reasonableness' of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight (Graham vs. Connor, 1989).” Most law enforcement officers support the evaluation of their use of force and decisions by a person with the experience and understanding that comes from relevant law enforcement field experience and training. Conversely, suspicion and distrust may be present when a law enforcement officer senses a civilian board is attempting to influence the “reasonableness” of a use of force, outside of what is provided by law.

The NACOLE provides a list of core competencies for civilian oversight practitioners, though the competencies do not include the completion of scenario-based training or certification in the understanding and application of human performance parameters and memory (“Awareness” of the concepts is listed as a qualification). A review of NACOLE's documents and training topics can identify subjective vocabulary and inconsistently and/or incompletely applied data, observations, and criticism (i.e. “Implicit Bias,” transparency, misconduct, due process, etc.) and appear publicly focused on only the law enforcement component of a law enforcement/civilian contact, possibly increasing the likelihood of producing flawed or incomplete recommendations, reducing a board's credibility, and contributing to violated public expectations upon an adjudication of a use of force.


Does case law provide for the civilian evaluation of a law enforcement use of force?

Should a civilian oversight board have a role in the objective evaluation of a law enforcement use of force? Why, or why not?

Why do you think the Supreme Court did not identify civilian opinion or concern in the analysis of the objective "reasonableness” of a law enforcement use of force?

Can productive relationships be developed between civilian boards and law enforcement? If not, why? If so, what would that require?

Does a community benefit from a civilian oversight board's analysis of a law enforcement use of force? If so, how? If not, why?


Boghani, P. (2016). Is Civilian Oversight the Answer to Distrust of Police? FRONTLINE’s Policing the Police, (July 13). Retrieved:…/is-civilian-oversight-the-answer-to-d…/.

Graham vs. Connor (1989). (

Lynch, T., Stoen, R. (2017). Civilian Review Boards. The Cato Institute's National Police Misconduct Reporting Project. Retrieved:…/civilian-review-boards/.

National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement; Core Competencies for Civilian Oversight Practitioners. Retrieved:…/Core-Competencies-f….


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