By Susan Hutson
Independent Police Monitor, Ctiy of New Orleans
I have 15 years of experience in law enforcement oversight in three agencies, including New Orleans, Austin, and Los Angeles. These agencies represent different oversight models in diverse geographic locations and each pose different oversight challenges.
Successful oversight requires understanding how to build an agency with community support and strong standards that withstand opposition. Our staff and I built a new agency from the ground up in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina nine years ago.
As a part of growing our organization and setting standards, I spent several years researching, taking courses and getting accredited in different professional standards programs. That quest led me in February of 2018 to an SCCE Basic Compliance & Ethics Academy in San Francisco. From the beginning of the academy, I knew I had found the correct standard for my office and, perhaps, for our industry.
The definition of a Compliance and Ethics Program – to “promote and organizational culture that encourages ethical conduct and commitment to compliance with the law” – fits what we as police oversight professionals do every day. In different ways and with different structures, we all seek to work on the parts of police culture that are toxic or unethical and work towards compliance with the law and rules that fit our communities’ ethical standards. In short, we function as Compliance Officers, whether internal or externally located.
Further, the history of Department of Justice intervention in police departments around the country is similar to the intervention in the corporate arena. In investigations conducted by the DOJ, corporations and police departments were exposed for having cultures of non-compliance and unethical behavior.
The solutions to the problems uncovered in DOJ investigations, were also similar.
In the corporate world, compliance officers/committee functions are routinely outsourced to businesses that conduct the compliance work either in conjunction with or instead of the compliance officers/committee.
Police oversight agencies are similar. We provide compliance functions for police departments that we are either 1) a part of or 2) for which we were specifically created to provide external compliance.
More importantly, the seven (7) Elements of a Compliance and Ethics Program, are exactly what police oversight, including our organization, are doing all over the country on a daily basis.
- Standards of Conduct/Policies and Procedures –police oversight agencies assess the compliance of police departments and its officers with the law and the agencies own
- C&E Program Management: Structure, Accountability, Oversight and Recordkeeping –police oversight agencies are tasked with acting as either internal or outsourced compliance
- Communication, Education and Training – These are core tenets of police reform, including recommending constitutional and ethical training that is disseminated throughout the police department and to the public they
- Monitoring and Auditing – police oversight agencies conduct data analysis and police performance auditing to check for internal controls and adherence to law/policy.
- Reporting and Investigating –police oversight agency is tasked with taking, investigating and/or monitoring/reviewing complaints of misconduct and reporting the results of the complaint investigations to the community. At the core of this work is protecting complainants, including officers, from any
- Enforcement, Discipline and Incentives –police oversight agencies look at enforcing of the rules, especially as to discipline, as well as incentives such as commendations for those who follow the
- Response and Prevention – part of police oversight’s work is making recommendations that address patterns or systemic issues within the police agency being
One of the most important aspects of a compliance and ethics program is to the requirement to create industry measurements designed to demonstrate the compliance and ethics program’s effectiveness. President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing noted that police oversight is Pillar Two of the Six Pillars identified that promote police practices that focus on “effective crime reduction while building public trust.” The Task Force noted that: “We must examine civilian oversight in the communities where it operates and determine which models are successful in promoting police and community understanding.” In other words, our industry needs to create measurements to show our success, something that has not been fully implemented since police oversight was created.
As the director of a police oversight agency that is required to have regular peer reviews, I am passionate about professional standards that meet the needs of police oversight agencies. Adopting the Compliance and Ethics Program Standards, would allow police oversight not only to set high expectations for our agencies but also allow for regular review of authority and effectiveness and, finally, to give oversight agencies credibility and internal accountability for clear outcomes in investigations, policy and outreach.