Community Oversight of Law Enforcement

Anthony Finnell is the Vice President of the National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE). He is a former police officer and has done oversight work in several cities, including Seattle, Oakland and Chicago. I had the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Finnell and learn more about his organization and the current landscape of community oversight.



 

What is NACOLE?


NACOLE stands for the National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. It is a 28-year old association with a diverse membership and a broad range of interests in law enforcement. Academics, attorneys, current and former law enforcement, as well as community activists are all represented in NACOLE’s membership, but they primarily fall into three categories:


Practitioners: Those who do police oversight work as a full-time job.


Academics: Those who study police reform, oversight, and related topics.


Community: People from across the country who are interested in policing in their communities, and sometimes on the national level.


Finnell noted that although some members may be narrowly focused on holding police accountable around issues of misconduct, most have a broader goal of having their local law enforcement agencies function in a manner that is aligned with the goals of the community. At its core, Finnell says, it’s about Constitutional policing.



Emerging Trends


Finnell has noticed that a lot of cities are beginning to establish some form of community oversight before they have a critical incident. He believes there’s an argument to be made that the best time to codify a collaborative partnership with the community - one where the community has a voice in how the police department provides service - is not after an incident that generates an outcry for oversight. There tends to be more trust on both sides and it appears more genuine if an agency or city leaders seek out a partnership when relationships aren’t under heightened stress, rather than after a bad incident and the agency is forced to do it. Additionally, having a form of oversight in place before a critical incident may help diffuse some of the damage to the trust the community has in their law enforcement agency.


I asked Finnell why he thought it was important to formalize oversight bodies in these instances rather than simply establish informal working relationships with the community. He noted the transience of leadership positions - from elected officials, to chiefs, to community leaders. While one group may have a good working relationship and be able to address issues more informally, a change in the dynamic could undo a lot of hard work simply because of personality conflicts or disagreements. However, if solid procedures that are amenable to both sides are codified, they can withstand these personnel changes and provide some stability for the community and the officers.


NACOLE just held their annual conference and Finnell noted a couple trends that he’s seeing. First is that the concept of community oversight boards is becoming more prevalent throughout the country and internationally. People from thirty-six states and eleven different countries were in attendance. Second is community oversight of county agencies, corrections, probation and parole, and state agencies is increasing. Finnell says that the cultural and pattern of practice issues that can affect municipal police also exist elsewhere in the criminal justice system, and these types of agencies can also benefit from community oversight.




NACOLE's Approach


For jurisdictions that are considering community oversight - or ones that have been mandated to do so - NACOLE offers resources, training, and technical assistance to city organizations on establishing different oversight entities. Typically, oversight takes the form of a review-focused model, an investigative-focused model, or an auditor/monitor-focused model. Increasingly, jurisdictions are adopting a hybrid, combining the functions of these models to suit their situation. Oversight authority can range from very limited, to sweeping access to the agency and its operations. Whatever model that the community and city administration, NACOLE can provide guidance and resources to assist.


This is important, Finnell says, because when the time comes to draft an ordinance or city policy to establish a police oversight entity, having resources and guidelines on best practices can save a lot of headache down the road. Consider that in most instances, an oversight agency is unprecedented in the jurisdiction and city leadership may lack the experiential knowledge on how to establish one efficiently and effectively, so starting off on the right track is important.


Finnell also understands that the law enforcement agencies are stakeholders in this process as well, particularly when it comes to policy development. He said that when he is evaluating a policy, he views it through the lens of both officer safety and what will cause the least amount of harm to the community - not just physical harm, but the harm that can come from having a lack of trust in the police.



Final Thoughts


I enjoyed my conversation with Mr. Finnell and I learned a lot about the current state of community oversight of law enforcement and the variety of ways this model is being applied across the country.


I also found it interesting that an objection Finnell often hears to establishing oversight - the “but we don’t have a problem” objection - is often the same one I hear about Truleo. Unless you know what is on every BWC video in your agency, how do you know you don’t have a problem with how officers are interacting with the community? How do you know there aren’t areas where you can improve and help officers be more professional, increase community trust, and have safer interactions within the community? As Mr. Finnell mentioned, it’s better for all involved to establish meaningful methods for accountability before there’s a crisis, not afterward.



 

Interview Guests:


Anthony Finnell - Guest

VICE PRESIDENT

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT OF LAW ENFORCEMENT


Chris Sansone - Host

DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC PARTNERS

CHRIS@TRULEO.CO




 


About Truleo

Truleo analyzes police body camera videos using artificial intelligence to help promote police professionalism. Truleo worked with FBI National Academy alumni to build the models that deconstruct officers’ language into professionalism and risk metrics to help agencies promote best practices, train new officers, and mitigate risk. To learn more about Truleo’s mission to improve trust in the police with body camera analytics, visit www.truleo.co.




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