How do we increase police accountability in urban communities?

In the wake of several high-profile police killings and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, many Americans are demanding greater accountability in policing. One popular form of police accountability is the establishment of civilian oversight organizations.

Independent from police departments, civilian oversight organizations can investigate and address complaints about officer misconduct. In practice, however, creating a process that can effectively adjudicate civilian concerns is complicated. 

First, civilians need to trust that their complaint will actually lead to a positive outcome, or they will not be likely to engage with the complaints process. Even if they do choose to begin the process by filing a complaint, most take a year or more to resolve and many complainants drop out of the process before it is completed. In addition, disciplinary actions following review remain rare.

The Possibility Lab partnered with an independent civilian oversight organization in a large American city to better understand the opportunities and challenges of the complaint review process.

Our team analyzed data to understand how many people engage with each step of the complaint process, where people disengage with the process, how long it takes complaints to move forward, and the distribution of case outcomes. We then worked closely with the city to identify potential drivers of drop off rates, and made recommendations about realistic and scalable adjustments to the process, as well as how to test the effectiveness of these potential solutions. Together with our partner, we are helping to strengthen police accountability through civilian oversight.

This project was made possible with funding from the Citrin Center for Public Opinion at the University of California, Berkeley.



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