July 12 2002


National City Police Review Board: Paper Tiger or Tiger with Teeth

The citizens of National City have made it clear: They want and the city needs a Citizens’ Police Review Board. The question is what form will this review board take? Will it be one that will effectively handle citizen’s complaints? Or, will it be a Review Panel that is essentially a paper tiger?

The National City Community Police Relations Task Force (NCCPR Task Force), was charged with coming up with a plan for a police review board, chose to form a ‘paper tiger’! The task force in of itself was of questionable character. Of the 25 original members selected, five were law enforcement affiliated, 11 white, 12 Hispanic and one was half Hispanic and half Filipino. Not one member was of African descent (one African-American was later added after the city council was embarrassed by this omission.)

Among the recommendations by this NCCPR Task Force was, that the Citizens Review Board fall under the authority of the Police Chief. In fact, putting it underneath the thumb of the very same people (the police department) who they are supposed to investigate! The basic premise of a Citizens’ Review Board is that it will take citizens complaints against the police out of the police’s hands and place it with the Citizens Review Board. The citizens of National City would thereby have the freedom and right to investigate complaints against the police without fear of intimidation or retribution!

Under the regulations proposed by the NCCPR Task Force the police’s Internal Affairs (IA) division, which investigates and makes its own binding recommendations, the police review board will only be able to make recommendations to uphold the IA findings or not. Having the Citizens Review Board report to the Internal Affairs Department is useless and will make a farce of the Citizens Review Board. This will in no way create the trust that the community and the police are seeking. It only confirms the system with which the police are presently processing citizens’ complaints. It does nothing to change the nature of the filing and the investigation of these complaints.

Under the task force’s proposed plan, citizens will still have to approach the police to file a complaint against another officer, which often times they are discouraged from doing by the police. This process of filing a complaint with the police is one of the main changes sought by the proponents of a Citizens Review Board. The police will then investigate the complaint, make their recommendation, and then the proposed review board will review the police’s investigation. The review board will be allowed to hear citizen’s appeals, but will not be able to investigate, call witnesses or affect change. They will only be allowed to make recommendations. In affect they will have no power to do anything but rubber-stamp the present process.

This proposal presented by the task force will go before the National City City Council July 16, which will either endorse the plan as is, or, modify the plan. The plan accepted by the city council will then be put on the November election ballot to be approved by the voters of National City.

We would encourage the city to take a long hard look at this proposed plan and create a Citizens’ Police Review Board with some teeth. Create a review board that will make it an effective board that can rebuild the trust between the police and community by providing a fair review of police practices and actions.

This can be done by taking the authority away from the Chief of Police and putting it under the Mayor and City Council, thus making it accountable to the voters. The citizens’ review board will require the authority and power to conduct independent investigations, including subpoena powers, into complaints filed by citizens. The Review Board should have authority to make recommendations as to disciplinary actions and police practices to the Mayor, City Council and the City Attorney.

The citizens have spoken, the task force has made its recommendations, it is now up to the city council, will they have the courage to make the changes necessary to create an effective Citizens’ Review Board or will they be intimidated by their own police force they have created. The citizens full well know that the members of a police department are one of the few agencies that have the right to KILL YOU! That is an awesome power that needs to have a citizens review and oversight of how they use that power.

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