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Civilian Review Boards

A municipal body composed of citizen representatives charged with the investigation of complaints by members of the public concerning misconduct by police officers. Such bodies may be independent agencies or part of a law enforcement agency.

Generally, the power of a civilian review board is restricted to reviewing an already completed internal police investigation, and commenting on it to the Chief of Police. Citizen review boards have not been very effective at causing reform, as they are often co-opted by the police department whose investigations they are supposed to review, and thus wind up agreeing with the police department in almost all instances.

Some of the newer civilian review board models, however, provide board members with investigatory as well as review authority. Some of these models contemplate that the board will conduct parallel investigations to supplement the internal affairs investigations. In a few localities, the review board has subpoena power and can force a police officer to testify. A few jurisdictions even grant sole investigatory power to their civilian review boards. But it is very rare for a civilian review board to have the final say as to the disposition of an investigation or discipline to be imposed on an officer. These ultimate decisions generally continue to be the province of the chief of police. Nonetheless, all civilian review boards with independent investigatory authority seem to have the power to make recommendations to the chief on disposition and discipline.


Goldsmith, Andrew J., and Colleen Lewis. 2000. Civilian Oversight of Policing: Governance, Democracy, and Human Rights. Portland, Ore.: Hart Pub.

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