Civil Governance: The Future

The primary objective of civilian review/oversight is to achieve greater a balance between citizen participation in law enforcement so police are held accountable to the public, and enhancing the autonomy of the police so they can preserve public order in a democratic and peaceful society. Based on thirty years of experience of civilian review in Canada, this balance has not yet been established. Policy-makers who study complaints now acknowledge that police misconduct is more complex than was previously thought and requires much more careful examination and study.

The social and political context within which civilian review bodies are created is important. The ideal context is a civic and political culture valuing democratic governance in which citizens believe their collective voices are being heard. Social structures within this culture represent the interests of citizens and model sound democratic practices. Leaders in a community of this kind possess the political will to hold all officials, including their political colleagues, publicly accountable for their actions (Stone and Ward, Colleen Lewis "The politics").

What steps must occur in order to achieve this ideal?

Increased Collaboration Between External and Internal Oversight

The "we-they" attitude characterizing many civilian oversight bodies and the police needs to be minimized and ultimately eliminated. It is now generally accepted that both external and internal forms of review and oversight are necessary to ensure that a democratic approach to policing is developed and maintained (Phillips and Trone). Both components of oversight structures need to have sound working relationships with each other. External oversight bodies must find the means of maintaining their independence from the police while, at the same time, collaborating with them. They must also be proficient at communicating this dialectical arrangement to the citizens of their community. External bodies are unlikely to ever receive sufficient resources so they are completely autonomous of the police, even if there are advantages in doing so. The police are unlikely to ever again command the complete trust of citizens unless some form of external control exists.

There are other reasons as well for maintaining a complementary working relationship between external and internal bodies:

  • The police are better equipped than most civilian structures o handle investigative functions, despite the perception and possibility that they are biased, and to review serious incidents involving injuries or fatalities because of their greater resources, expertise and structure;
  • It may be more efficient for civilian agencies to handle those complaints that are "non-bureaucratic" (e.g. requiring a simpler solution such as an apology) and incidents in which there is no evidence of violence or the use of excessive force;
  • External bodies might use their limited resources more effectively if their time was devoted towards helping the police establish a better monitoring system to control and prevent incidents of misconduct on the part of their officers.