OC Register Editorial: Civilian Review

The Orange County Register today provided us with their opinion regarding the issue of civilian review of law enforcement.  I understand and share their belief in the benefits of civilian oversight.  I still believe that no real benefit will result from the proposals that are currently on the table. However quite frankly I see no further purpose in arguing against the idea of civilian review at this point, given the Board’s direction to staff to come up with a system.

The devil is now in the detail of what is created. The initial proposal would establish a Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) consisting of 7 members, with 5 of those members appointed by each Supervisor.  Based upon the size of the proposed commission, and the way appointments are made, it is unlikely that the diversity necessary to be reflective of the community of Orange County can be met.  The proposal cites the City of San Diego review board as a model for Orange County and then ignores two critical aspects that make the San Diego model effective; size and method of appointment.

The San Diego Board is made up of 23 members appointed by the City Manager.  This method allows for the diversity of the city to be reflected in the commission membership.  It also removes the politics of political appointment from the process. 

As a CLERB is developed for Orange County it will be important that the commission size and method of appointment utilized in San Diego be applied here.

There are other details, such as whether or not the commission should duplicate the investigations conducted by internal affairs, the District Attorney, or the Grand Jury.  This is also critical, because to add a separate investigation on top of those already in place will complicate the process significantly.

It is important that we understand the there is a difference between the administrative function of staff management and the enforcement of potential violations of law.  The Sheriff is responsible for the administration and supervision of his department.  If he doesn’t do that effectively, the voters should address that by removing the Sheriff.

Ensuring public trust through a CLERB comes from the administration of justice that may result from that oversight.  The CLERB cannot direct the District Attorney as to what can or should be prosecuted, but is the fact that we have civilians reviewing the process that reached those conclusions builds public confidence, then that will be a good outcome.

In their editorial the Register claims…

The scores of misconduct complaints generated internally and by the public each year do not make it outside of the internal review process. That is a closed process, and the public isn’t told anything of the internal investigation beyond whether the complaint was “sustained” or “not sustained.” A civilian review panel would provide a mechanism for dealing openly with various types of complaints. 

On this the Register is dead wrong. The CLERB will be required, because of existing law, to conduct their reviews in private.  None of the information they review can or will be made public.  Sorry folks, there will be no public lynching of law enforcement officers as a result of this process.  We will simply have to accept that whatever decisions have been made have been independently reviewed and we will get the same exact answers; “sustained” or “not sustained.”

I also take issue with this comment in the Register editorial…

Sheriff Mike Carona took an unduly defensive approach to the idea, snidely suggesting he would support it if there was an oversight panel for every other branch of government, including the Board of Supervisors.

The Register should not be so quick to dismiss Corona’s suggestion.  Given my personal experience with such things as the county internal audit department, charged with investigating improper conduct by county employees, I feel that external oversight would be a good thing. As things stand now, all these people do is cover things up and try to make the person who raises a concern go away.  As the saying goes, “what’s good for the goose…”

Actually, this gives me an idea.  Let’s expand the CLERB to be a Civilian Government Oversight Board that reviews internal investigations of all complaints of fraud, misconduct, and mismanagement of government programs in addition to law enforcement conduct.  This CGOB should also be empowered to investigate improper influence of personnel action by members of the Board of Supervisors.

Now that would be true civilian oversight of government, and as the Register editorial says; this would “uphold the ideals of open government that are essential in our system.”

  1 comment for “OC Register Editorial: Civilian Review

  1. LO
    June 6, 2007 at 9:17 am

    How refreshing, an article by someone that has actually done some research. Thank you. You bring up some important points that I wish the public would sit back, digest, and use some common sense about this issue. The word ‘facts’ seems to have been lost in the English language.
    Every time I post questions for validity of a Register article, I am deleted from their discussion boards.

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