Policing the Police

An investigation into complaints about police use of excessive force confirms what many citizens already believe: Cops cover for cops

Around the nation, communities are developing new methods to improve the credibility of the internal affairs process. Los Angeles County; Portland, Oregon; and San Jose, California, for example, have employed independent internal affairs "auditors." Says the University of Nebraska's Sam Walker: "Auditors can sit in on interviews with witnesses, or they can review the transcripts or the tapes and look for bias, a failure to follow up with an obvious question. If the investigators are asking leading questions to officers, they can catch that."

Since 1980 Dade County has had an independent review panel that investigates complaints against county employees, including police officers. The panel functions similarly to an independent auditor in that it can review the work of police investigators and issue its own findings, which in some cases are at odds with those reached by the department. Its mandate, however, is to investigate complaints, not to monitor internal affairs departments.

"One thing that police administrators could do [to boost public confidence] is to have as open a civilian-review process as possible," advises Wes Pomeroy, who founded the Dade review panel.

Miami Police Chief Donald Warshaw says he welcomes public scrutiny if it will improve his department's relationship with the people he serves: "We really want the community to feel they can come in here and make a complaint against an officer and not have any kind of retribution and get a fair and accurate investigation.

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