The concept of a community review board should be uncontroversial. It is a central tenant of our democracy that any powers given to the government need the appropriate check to avoid abuse of this power. A community review board would not change the overall practices and standards of the Carlsbad Police Department.
University of San Diego, Kroc School of Peace and Justice
St. John’s University, School of Law
January 17th, 2021
“Black Americans remain over three times more likely to be shot by police than white Americans”
Inspired by the events surrounding the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor as well as our own experiences with policing, the Carlsbad Equality Coalition has taken on the critical task of advocating for a community review board. It is easy to be consumed with feelings of hopelessness—as many continue to believe that there is no need to change our long-lived practices that have been upheld by our society for a century. If it ain't broke, don’t fix it right? Yet, according to a database maintained by The Washington Post, the number of people shot and killed by police has “held remarkably steady each year since 2014, at about 1,000 annually.” That is despite a radical decrease in crime and the national attention given to police shootings over the last decade. Black people are far more likely than whites and other groups to be the victims of use of force by the police, even when racial disparities in crime are taken into account. A New York Times report found that at least 70 people over the past decade, ranging in age from 19 to 65, had died in law enforcement custody after saying the same words: “I can’t breathe.” A majority of them had been stopped or held over nonviolent infractions, 911 calls about suspicious behavior, or concerns about their mental health. More than half were Black. Black Americans remain over three times more likely to be shot by police than white Americans. Research findings regarding the disparities in policing behavior are overwhelming and far greater than can be covered here, yet our nation has struggled to find spaces for compassionate dialogue. Recent events have left us with a hyper-polarized society and a diminished capacity for civil discourse. The concept of a community review board should be uncontroversial. It is a central tenant of our democracy that any powers given to the government need the appropriate check to avoid abuse of this power. A community review board would not change the overall practices and standards of the Carlsbad Police Department. What it can do is facilitate shifting the culture and attitudes of police officers, and hold people accountable who have not been in the past. It also enhances trust between the community and police officers, which polling data shows is at historic lows, and promotes the safety of officers and the public. This is not an adversarial relationship, but one that bridges the disconnect between members of the community, city leadership and law enforcement, and creates a stronger relationship that keeps both officers and civilians safe.
What does a CRB look like?
“You need not believe that there is an existing problem within the Carlsbad Police Department to understand the necessity of a just process to investigate complaints”
So, what do we mean by a review board and what would it look like? During Carlsbad’s City Council meeting on August 18th, presenters gave an overview of what a citizen review committee could look like. As they explained during the meeting, there are three basic models of oversight: auditor/monitor (focuses on making broad level recommendations), review-focused (which utilizes citizen volunteers and provides public forum on police issues), and investigation focused (civilians routinely conduct investigations of officers). Currently San Diego has task forces in the County of San Diego (Citizen’s law enforcement review board), the City of San Diego (Community Review Board on Police Practices), Chula Vista (Community Advisory Committee), Oceanside (Police and Fire Commission) and National City (Community & Police Relations Commission). While the Carlsbad Equality Coalition believes there should be some type of police oversight in all cities across the nation, Carlsbad has the opportunity to be innovative and find solutions that work towards creating a more equitable, safe and fair city. Carlsbad’s review board need not mimic any of the models in the county but instead should incorporate the best practices from all of them. Still, the CEC recommends that any review board in Carlsbad should ultimately take the form of an investigative oversight model. The investigative model removes a department from investigating itself and instead places the disciplinary powers in a commission of highly trained community members who do not have conflicts of interests with the department. The investigative model has always been the most controversial because on its face it is the most aggressive. However, building a fair process will require a collaborative approach with the same officers who would be subject to the board’s judgment. The process of forming a board with investigative powers should be able to fairly answer two questions: 1) If you were an officer unfairly accused of an offense, what resources would you need to defend yourself? 2) If you were a civilian that was subject to an illegal act by an officer, who would you want to handle the investigation and what process would be the most likely to secure justice? You need not believe that there is an existing problem within the Carlsbad Police Department to understand the necessity of a just process to investigate complaints. Nor do you need to be a supporter of law enforcement to understand the necessity of including them in the process of forming a board that can fairly treat officers who face unique challenges and dangers every time they come to work.
Outside of the controversial aspects of an investigative community review board, the model combines the resources, intelligence and talents of multiple law enforcement agencies, experts, and the community; the board focuses on a particular problem as an effective way to combat crime while holding police accountable for their actions. Community policing, in essence, leaves behind traditional, reactive approaches to policing. Through active communication with local residents, the police can better identify pressing issues of respective neighborhoods and cooperatively find sustainable solutions. A community-based oversight of policing can provide a forum for diverse opinions and offer a space for participation of people who might not otherwise get involved. Further, it provides a mechanism for experts in many fields to share their expertise and erase false boundaries that often separate disciplines. To reduce hostility towards police, especially in disadvantaged communities, it is critical that both police and society take every possible step to address and mitigate the grievances that “flow from a sense of injustice and increased tension and turmoil.” The discussions between the Carlsbad Equality Coalition, CPD leadership and local government officials have made one thing clear, the department wants to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to its police practices. It has spent the better part of the last year formulating new de-escalation and disengagement policies that are very much in line with the requests of activists. However, since this work was being done behind the scenes, the community was left in the dark and opportunity to build trust was squandered. Additionally, if the community had been allowed to be part of the process, it is more than likely that these changes would have occurred over a decade ago rather than as a reaction to national sentiment. We do not need to wait for tragedy to be reflective; the time for a community review board is now.
Nationwide, there is a palpable tension between those who “back the blue” and those who seek justice in policing. The Carlsbad Equality Coalition rejects that notion. Supporting law enforcement and creating safe, equitable police practices are one and the same. The lives of officers and the rights of citizens are most protected by the best practices. We hope you will join us in supporting the creation of a community review board and share with us your experiences so that we can best advocate for you in the coming months. In the meantime, we remain committed to a common-sense collaborative approach that addresses the rights of all parties.
 Sullivan, Becky. “How Recommendations of An Obama Task Force Have, And Haven't, Changed U.S. Policing.” NPR, NPR, 22 June 2020, www.npr.org/2020/06/22/881814431/how-recommendations-of-an-obama-task-force-have-and-havent-changed-u-s-policing.  Ortiz, Aimee. “Confidence in Police Is at Record Low, Gallup Survey Finds.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Aug. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/08/12/us/gallup-poll-police.html.  “Black People More than Three Times as Likely as White People to Be Killed during a Police Encounter.” News, 8 July 2020, www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/blacks-whites-police-deaths-disparity/.  U.S Department of Justice. “Building a Successful Task Force for Prevention and Planning.” The National Criminal Justice Reference Service, 9 Nov. 1992.  The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. The Kerner Report. Princeton University Press, 2016. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvcszz6s. Accessed 31 Dec. 2020.