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date: 29 September 2023

Civilian Oversight of Police in the United Stateslocked

Civilian Oversight of Police in the United Stateslocked

  • Taryn ZastrowTaryn ZastrowDepartment of Criminology, George Mason UniversityGeorge Mason University
  •  and Danielle S. RudesDanielle S. RudesDepartment of Criminology, Law and Society, George Mason University


Civilian oversight of police is a tool commonly used in cities across the United States to hold police accountable for misconduct. Law enforcement agencies have a history of violence, brutality, and misconduct, specifically toward marginalized populations. Thus, oversight of police by civilians can be traced to the early 20th century, but models for implementing oversight have evolved over time. Literature on civilian oversight identifies three contemporary oversight models: investigative agencies, review boards, and auditor/monitor agencies. These models play different roles in providing oversight of police, including independently investigating civilian complaints, reviewing internal investigations of complaints, developing recommendations for police executives, and overseeing department practices and patterns. However, oversight agencies and boards often lack any legal power to enforce their recommendations, making them virtually ineffective. The lack of power held by oversight agencies can be traced to political pushback as well as conflicting organizational models within police departments. Given the variability between and within different oversight models, scholars have struggled to adequately study these agencies. However, some proposed solutions to ineffective oversight have been identified in the literature, including making the oversight agencies more autonomous. Further, when civilian oversight agencies are improved and public confidence in them increases, agencies should be provided with adequate resources to deal with the potential influx of civilian complaints.


  • Policing

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