COPS: How civilian oversight of police works in major US cities

A 2018 report from the DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services discusses the effectiveness, and challenges, of the civilian review boards in major cities across the country


Police in riot gear prepare to advance on protesters, Saturday, May 30, 2020, in Minneapolis. Image: AP Photo/John Minchillo

As protests following the in-custody death of George Floyd rock the nation, police oversight is once again in the public spotlight.

Advocates for police reform look to civilian review boards as a much needed tool to rein in police misconduct, yet many in law enforcement view them as “an unmitigated disaster” waiting to happen. Police unions across the country have consistently objected to their use, arguing that “civilians are in no position to judge the split-second decisions that police officers make.”

Regardless, Louisville, Kentucky, recently announced the beginning of its own civilian oversight board, convening a group of faith leaders, law enforcement representatives, community advocates and elected officials from across the community to research and recommend the best structure.

And there’s certainly a lot to investigate. According to a 2018 report from the COPS Office, “a number of civilian oversight classification systems [have] developed over the years because of the wide variation in approaches adopted by communities.” While these programs can generally be described as investigation-focused, review-focused or employing an auditor/monitor model, they “vary significantly from one city to the next and even within the general categories ... and in some communities there are aspects of all of the models,” according to the report.

This is why the COPS Office awarded funding to the Major Cities Chiefs Association to survey its members about their own oversight programs and then hold a round table to discuss their advantages, challenges, and effectiveness.

The “Civilian Oversight of Police in Major Cities” report, available in full below, is the result of these efforts and is intended “to assist those agencies who want to know how civilian oversight is working in communities across the nation.”

Civilian Oversight of the P... by Ed Praetorian on Scribd

Sarah is based in North Carolina, where she lives with her son and several rambunctious reptiles. Before taking on her current role with Lexipol, she was the staff writer for the tech website DZone and served as an assistant editor with the rural lifestyle publication GRIT Magazine. Get in touch with her at