The local weekly independent newspaper here in North Carolina (the aptly named Independent Weekly) has a front page feature on civilian oversight of police forces. Who’s Watching The Cops profiles attempts in Durham and Chapel Hill by civilians to bring some level of transparency to allegations of police misconduct.
I’ve written so much on this subject – most recently a couple of weeks ago, I’ve included that post at the end of this one – I’m in danger of broken-record syndrome.
Anyway, let’s first note two delicious ironies in the Independent piece:
1. One of the authors calling into question the Durham police department is none other than Samiha Khanna. Formerly with the Raleigh News and Observer, Khanna is the report who jumped-the-gun on the Duke Lacrosse scandal – she was the first local to appear on CNN – and took at face value everything that was alleged by the victim in that case. I hardly think Khanna is the best judge of anything having to do with the Durham PD.
2. While some Chapel Hill residents call for police oversight in the small burg – and notably newly elected Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt seems to be being led by the nose on this issue – former Chapel Hill police chief and 31-year veteran of the force, Gregg Jarvies was the top cop called out of retirement to Spring Lake to clean up the NC town’s police force after allegations of corruption. So I question the alleged charges of Chapel Hill’s long history of internal corruption.
No one wants to see law enforcement held accountable for their actions more than myself. But let’s keep things in perspective. It is regrettable that some people got dusted-up by officers in Chapel Hill and Durham, but I don’t believe these cases warrant full scale public inquiries (never mind that Durham’s Civilian Police Review Board needs to do a better job of record keeping before it can be taken seriously).
When the police break the law, and even go so far as to commit crimes? That is another matter. A full inquiry was conducted in Quebec’s Matticks Affair in the 1990s which lead to the Poitras Commission Report; a $20 million dollar taxpayer dissection of Quebec’s Surete du Quebec police force, and even then citizens did not get the one most important thing they wanted: a civilian intermediary between the Justice Minister and the police.
Now in Quebec they are at it again, with the Surete du Quebec investigating the Montreal police. As they should; young Freddy Villanueva lost his life in a police altercation. But when it’s all over don’t expect to be happy with the outcome. This is an airing of laundry, not an opportunity to make any significant change to the manner by which law enforcement in Quebec are held accountable for their actions.
When citizens in Durham and Chapel Hill have a legitimate complaint against their local police, let them come forward with those allegations, but now is not the time for such actions.
Final note, for an excellent read on police oversight check out Carl Klockars’ The Contours of Police Integrity (I haven’t read it yet, but anything by Klockars is excellent)
Here is the older post:
CTV does a profile on why public inquiries don’t work; especially when police are conducting them. When I was considering completing a PhD in criminal justice my thesis was going to be the role of public inquiries in society… and I had already pretty much figured out they area waste of tax payer money ( you only have to look at Quebec’s Poitras Commission to figure that one out).
Yet, here is Quebec again throwing good money away at in inquiry into Montreal police conduct in the Freddy Villanueva shooting, with another police force, The Surete du Quebec leading up the commission.
Who Polices The Police indeed?
Recall Plato’s Noble Lie from The Republicwhere the guardians of the State would be told they are better than ordinary citizens and that this lie would maintain a Rawlson balance in society. Or, in a more negative and contemporary spin – and I’m totally geeking out here – in Alan Moore’s Watchmen the illusion of order is maintain by the threat of destruction (if the earth don’t stay peaceful Dr. Manhattan will come back and finish the job.) This might be the more appropriate analogy under present circumstances in Quebec.