Police Accountability

Meet the Police Oversight Committee - aka City Council. 
The public entrusts the police with incredible power.  Who else is legally authorized to use force, imprison, or even take life if necessary?  Understandably, society scrutinizes and holds police accountable like no others.

In Idaho Falls, we are fortunate to have a high level of trust between police and the citizens they serve.  If that trust breaks down, our effectiveness would drop like a rock and the community’s safety with it.  I take that trust very seriously.
Let me cover a few ways police are accountable.

1.       Their own sense of duty and integrity.  We work hard to select the right kind of person to be a police officer.  Candidates undergo a written test followed by an interview with subject matter experts and members from the community.  Then they have to pass a physical agility test, a medical test, a psych test, a background check and a polygraph test.  The majority wash out - it's surprising how many with problems in the moral character arena.  Once chosen, police officers go through extensive training.

2.       Immediate Supervisors.  These are seasoned professionals that mentor and coach our police officers giving them guidance and ensuring they exercise their authority appropriately.  They are there on a daily basis monitoring and showing up on police calls.

3.       Chief of Police.  When I receive a complaint, I ensure it is investigated completely.  If a citizen isn’t happy with the outcome, I invite them to speak with me directly.  My track record with those that do so is high and very credible.  It may not always go their way, but chances are good they’ll feel confident they were treated fairly and their concern was dealt with appropriately.  On a broader scale, these interactions help influence policy.

4.       Mayor and City Council.  This is where citizens can have a direct say in the direction of the police department.  Also, if you’re not comfortable contacting me with a concern, I invite you to contact the Mayor or any member of the City Council.  These are the people you chose to hold me accountable.  If they aren’t satisfied with how I’m handling things, they can fire me.  If you aren’t satisfied they are holding me accountable, you can fire them.

5.       Legal process.  This helps protect the rights of the minority.  If you can’t muster the votes to fire the Mayor or Council or think they’re doing fine except for a specific incident with the police, you can appeal directly to the courts.  This is a powerful tool to keep potential rogue cops in line.  Not only can a police officer be sued civilly, but they are subject to criminal law just like everyone else.  How?  If one of our police officers is accused of a crime, we take it to the Bonneville County Prosecutor, an elected official accountable to you.  If the matter is serious, he will always have it investigated by an outside agency.  If you’re concerned that police and the prosecutor are too cozy, you can also go to the FBI who is specifically tasked with investigating crimes committed by police.
A word about Citizen Oversight Committees: Large cities that have a difficult time staying in touch with their citizens or smaller cities that do a crappy job of it sometimes have Citizen Oversight Committees.  They typically function in an atmosphere of low trust born out of frustration that police aren’t responsive or trustworthy.  While well-meaning, these committees often lack understanding or have their own agendas.

Direct oversight is best conducted by the Mayor and City Council – fellow citizens chosen directly by the people rather than a bureaucratic committee with limited accountability.  The council is also in a much better position to set priorities and give direction because of their direct ties to the community.

For me, trust that we won’t violate your rights or break the law isn’t enough.  I want your confidence that we’re not just doing the right thing, but we’re doing the right thing in a great way.  I’ll blog more on our Citizen Surveys and Score Card later.  But if you have a sense that we’re moving the wrong direction or fumbling on a specific issue, give me a call or drop me an email.  I really want to hear from you.