Chicago Police Shooting Shows Role of Oversight Office

The quick release of video in a controversial police shooting demonstrates the important role civilian oversight agencies can play in holding police accountable.

Within 24 hours after the shooting of Harith Augustus by Chicago police on July 14, the Chicago Police Department released body camera footage to the public. The video is less than a minute long and lacks sound, but the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, a civilian oversight agency for the Chicago Police Department that coordinated the release, said it would release the full video within 60 days. The incident demonstrates the important role civilian oversight agencies can play in holding police accountable and incorporating community voices in policing, Olugbenga Ajilore writes for the Urban Institute. The National Association of Civilian Oversight in Law Enforcement (NACOLE) says there are about 150 oversight agencies in the U.S. Agencies that focus on individual complaints rather than general oversight are typically most successful at holding police forces accountable for wrongdoing or misbehavior.

However the agency is structured, it should be independent from the police department so that recommendations can be trusted, Ajilore says. For example, the Police Complaints Board in Washington, D.C., requires four of its five members to have no existing connection to the police department. Striking a balance between those with policing experience and those with no ties to the police department can be difficult. What mix of expertise and independence can best support a civilian oversight agency? To find the answer, we need more research, Ajilore writes. Civilian oversight agencies help communities have a say in how they are policed, but we need to know more about them and variations in their structure, reach, and effectiveness to enhance law enforcement accountability and reduce police misconduct, he says.