If the police and government officials were doing such a great job monitoring police misconduct, then we wouldn’t need independent citizen boards to provide an extra degree of oversight.
Saratoga Springs does not have such oversight, and it appears to need some.
A report in the Times Union over the weekend highlighted the need for the creation of an independent citizen oversight panel.
The report found that city Police Chief Greg Veitch admitted he lied to the public by saying an internal investigation was taking place in the death of 21-year-old Darryl Mount Jr. in August 2013, when in fact no such internal investigation was taking place.
Mount fell 20 feet to his death from a scaffolding after being chased by police. Some family members have alleged he did not die from an accidental fall, but from a beating he received from police.
In a case like that, it’s in the best interests of the citizens to take the investigation out of the hands of police and give it to an authority that isn’t akin to allowing the fox to guard the hen house.
The city’s Public Safety commissioner, Peter Martin, is resisting the idea, saying a civilian board would be an unnecessary level of bureaucracy and create more problems than it solves,
Civilian oversight boards are not uncommon. More than 200 cities in the U.S., including Albany and Schenectady, have such boards. Most were formed due to public dissatisfaction with police response to citizen complaints.
How effective these boards are depends on the degree of authority and access to officers’ records granted to them by the municipalities, whether they have investigators to look into complaints, how much cooperation they receive from police, and whether they have adequate budgets.
Saratoga Springs city officials should not turn their backs on this opportunity to involve the public in an independent review of police procedures and actions.
They should talk to officials in other cities that have such boards, legal experts, prosecutors, police unions and citizens who’ve had experience with citizen oversight to find out what might be the most effective way to establish a local board and how to operate it.
For police to be most effective, they need the trust of the citizens they serve.
A civilian review board could help provide and enhance that trust.