20/20 (20 minutes of writing for 20 days): 5. NACOLE Day 1 Reflection

The annual conference of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement  (NACOLE) started today in Spokane and I am fortunate enough to be here for it.  The following are some initial (random?) thoughts on what I saw/heard/experienced.

  1. This is the second time this year that I have attended, for the first time, a conference of a national association (the other was NAFSA–an organization focused on international education).  I am struck by the passion of long-term practitioners in each.  These are people who have, for the most part, spent long periods of their careers, focusing on how to make police more accountable to the communities in which they live and serve.  And, like other professional associations they are wrestling with how to create the highest standards of practice for their members.  There is something inspiring to me about the long-term commitments I see here.
  2. This association is interesting in that it includes a full array of local actors: government employees, citizen volunteers, police officers, elected officials (more on this below), attorneys, community-based organizations, consultants, academicians.
  3. Add to the foregoing diversity the representation from large and small cities and great racial diversity and this is, by far, the most diverse association meeting I have ever been to.  It is rivaled in my experience only by the American Public Health Association (which is much larger).
  4. I am one of three (that I counted) elected officials here out of about 450 attendees.  I assumed, given how prominent the issue of police behavior is in the news, that MANY more electeds would be here.  I would say that police oversight is one of the top five issues cities face in these days (housing/homelessness, escalating service costs, aging infrastructure, addiction, and environmental sustainability are some others).  I am surprised there are not more policy makers here.
  5. Police oversight is one of those issues where the solutions will ONLY be found via a broad coalition of actors.  We need to invite all these actors around the table and marvel at the unique contribution that each can and must make.  We must also recognize what each actor is not well positioned to bring to the table.  The key to success for Davis or any oversight process will be developing deep personal relationships among these actors.  This is the only way we will be able to build the kind of trust necessary to see us through times of crisis.
  6. Models of police oversight include focuses on investigation, civilian complaint boards, policy and practice review, and independent investigation review.  More and more cities are developing hybrid models that combine various of these domains.  Our public process in Davis is about defining what our model will be.
  7. A not insignificant number of people working in this field are former police officers.
  8. There is a big difference between helping police do their job better (the vision of some in this field) and creating transparency to build greater police accountability.  The latter is where the industry appears to be going–with a focus on police legitimacy.
  9. Big cities dominate this field with LARGE staffs dealing with complaints, investigations, hearings and policy development. A smaller town like Davis represents where oversight is moving.  I attribute this to the fact that policing is experiencing a national crisis and communities are trying to figure out how to take a preventive approach rather than waiting for a crisis to hit.
  10. Glad I am here.  I know I will return to Davis with my thinking enlarged and a more informed commitment to improving police oversight in Davis.

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