The Need for Regulatory Bodies

When people advocate for community oversight bodies, they generally are talking about entities that have the authority to make disciplinary decisions around officer misconduct. What is often missing from the discussion is the need for entities that have the authority to shape police practices well before anything has gone wrong.

Communities need to be involved on the front-end to have a say in how they are policed. Democratic participation such as this strengthens legitimacy in policing and ensures that policing not only is constitutional but aligned with public values.

One key part of front-end voice is having formal regulatory structures that can give teeth to public input. We believe formal structures, such as police commissions or inspectors general, help address some of the shortcomings of direct police-community engagement. These entities can conduct comprehensive reviews, identify problem areas, propose changes, help facilitate public input on a more ongoing basis, and collaborate directly with policing agency leadership.

 
 

We believe regulatory bodies are not only good for communities, but for police and law enforcement as a whole. On the front-end, they provide a non-punitive system that promotes organizational learning. They can distill broad community feedback into discrete items that are actionable for a department. Further, they can foster political legitimacy and public goodwill.

While regulatory bodies exist in policing, few both wield front-end authority and make systematic efforts to engage the public. Regulatory bodies need to recognize that they are well-positioned—with access to information and with substantial influence and decision-making authority—to work with communities and enhance front-end voice. Many types of oversight bodies currently exist, to varying degrees of effectiveness, but few take seriously their unique ability to marry institutional power with public input on the front-end. Successful regulatory bodies should be able to conduct comprehensive reviews, identify problem areas, propose changes, help facilitate public input on a more ongoing basis, and collaborate directly with policing agency leadership.

Regulatory bodies are not a substitute for direct democratic participation like community meetings and town halls. But they are a critical part of a comprehensive community engagement strategy – in which the public plays a role at every stage of democratic participation.

 
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