Are civilian oversight agencies actually holding police accountable?

July 19, 2018, Olugbenga Ajilore

Within 24 hours after the shooting of Harith Augustus by Chicago police on July 14, the Chicago Police Department released body camera footage of the incident to the public. The video is less than a minute long and lacks sound, but the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, a civilian oversight agency for the Chicago Police Department that coordinated the release, said it would release the full video within 60 days, as is required.

The quick release of the edited footage is a good step toward transparency and best practices regarding body cameras. Before the 60-day policy went into effect in 2016, the Chicago police took more than a year to release footage of the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald. The civilian oversight agency at the time, the Independent Police Review Authority, lacked the independence and influence to ensure the video’s timely release.

These incidents demonstrate the important role civilian oversight agencies can play in holding police accountable and incorporating community voices in policing.

What are civilian oversight agencies?

Civilian oversight agencies are typically established after an incident of police misconduct and when a community identifies a need for such an agency. After a series of police shootings in Pittsburgh in the 1990s, the US Department of Justice issued a consent decree to establish the city’s Citizen Police Review Board (CPRB) in 1997.

The National Association of Civilian Oversight in Law Enforcement (NACOLE) says there are around 150 oversight agencies across the country. Although there is no strict definition of what encompasses an oversight agency, NACOLE breaks them into three categories:

  1. Investigation focused. These agencies, like the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, conduct independent investigations of complaints against police officers.
  2. Review focused. These agencies review the operations of police departments and aim to provide community input to internal investigations and procedures.
  3. Auditor or monitor focused. These agencies are typically started out of decrees from the federal government, with a focus on large-scale and systemic reforms.

What makes a successful civilian oversight agency?

Experts say that investigation-focused agencies are typically more successful at holding police forces accountable for wrongdoing or misbehavior because they focus on individual complaints. For any oversight agency to succeed, however, three factors are necessary:

  1. Independence. A civilian oversight agency should be independent from the police department so that recommendations can be trusted.
  2. Resources. Investigating complaints and issuing reports can be time consuming and expensive. A successful civilian oversight agency needs adequate funding to function.
  3. Power. Civilian oversight agencies need some teeth so that law enforcement can’t simply ignore recommendations from reports or investigations.

Independence is particularly important because civilian oversight agencies aim to improve the operations of police departments and correct mistakes. Without independence, it’s impossible to form nonbiased recommendations and implement reforms.

For example, the Police Complaints Board in Washington, DC, seeks to establish independence by requiring four of the five members to have no existing connection to the Metropolitan Police Department. These individuals are often retired police officers, while the fifth member must be a current member of the Metropolitan Police Department.

Striking a balance between those with policing experience and those with no ties to the police department can be difficult. What mix of expertise and independence can best support a civilian oversight agency? To find the answer, we need more research.

We need to know more about civilian oversight agencies

Many questions surround civilian oversight agencies, the answers to which research could illuminate. Are agencies with stronger enforcement abilities more effective? The recent homicide charges brought against Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosenfeld, who shot Antwan Rose on June 19, provides an interesting case along these lines, especially considering that officers are rarely arrested after a shooting. Could the arrest be attributed to the work of the city’s CPRB?

On the other hand, Rosenfeld was hired despite previous incidents of excessive force at the University of Pittsburgh. Was the CPRB involved in his hiring decision? A study by the Washington Post found that 451 officers of 1,881 officers who were fired from 37 of the nation’s largest police departments were later rehired. What role might oversight agencies play in these decisions?

Civilian oversight agencies help communities have a say in how they are policed, but we need to know more about them and variations in their structure, reach, and effectiveness to enhance law enforcement accountability and reduce police misconduct.

Olugbenga Ajilore, July 19, 2018, ,, “Are civilian oversight agencies actually holding police accountable?”,


Protests in Chicago continue after officials release video of police shooting

People march, shout, pray and protest against the alleged shooting of Harith Augustus by a Chicago Police officer during a confrontation in Chicago on 15 July 2018. (Tannen Maury/Tannen Maury/Epa-Efe/Rex/Shutterstock)

Tensions escalated in a Chicago neighborhood Monday, a day after the police department released a video showing officers skirmishing with a black man and then shooting him in the street on Saturday.

A rally late Monday on the spot where the shooting took place attracted about 200 people who chanted in unison. Some onlookers argued in the middle of the street about whether the police had a good reason to shoot. Two police helicopters hovered overhead. Suddenly, a middle-aged man darted up to police officers watching the scene.

“Human beings don’t behave like that!” he screamed at them. An elderly woman from the corner joined in. “You’re hurting people!” she yelled.

“It’s gotten worse since Saturday,” said Kay Thomas, 16, who was carrying groceries home from the corner Walgreen’s. “I never saw my neighborhood this upset.”

To many black and Latino residents on the city’s South and West sides, the Saturday afternoon shooting of Harith Augustus, a barber in the South Shore neighborhood, is unquestionably linked to the 2014 police shooting of Laquan McDonald, an unarmed 17-year-old. The aftermath of that shooting resulted in an incriminating report by the U.S. Department of Justice into practices by the police department, the electoral ouster of State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, the firing of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, and fresh vulnerability for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is in the midst of a reelection bid for a third term in February 2019.

Turning up the heat this summer is the pending trial of Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer charged with first-degree murder for shooting McDonald 16 times as he backed slowly away. A police dashboard-camera video in that case was released more than a year after Emanuel narrowly won a second term. Van Dyke’s attorney is trying to move the trial from Chicago because he argues that the officer cannot get a fair trial here.

Many here think the outcome of that trial will be a watershed moment.

“Nobody is taking [violence] seriously. The police aren’t. The alderman isn’t. The mayor don’t give a damn. The community is the only ones taking it seriously,” said Janet, 58, a neighborhood resident who did not want her last name used.

Unlike in the McDonald case, Chicago police released the Augustus tape to the public the next day. It shows two officers approaching Augustus as he stands on a sidewalk calmly talking with another officer. One of the officers grabs his wrist from behind, which causes him to spin around and run. A gun is seen as his shirt flies up, and he is shot as he runs off. There is no audio, and the circumstances related to the shooting are unknown. Police say the officer was placed on desk duty for 30 days; the shooting is under investigation by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA).

Activists in groups such as Black Lives Matter and the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression say that is not enough. At the march late Monday, as protesters marched to the barbershop where Augustus worked, activists called for the officer’s name to be released and for the officer’s firing. They also want an all-elected civilian council to replace COPA and have oversight on all matters related to police misconduct. Most of the appointees on COPA, which was created after the McDonald shooting, were named by Emanuel.

Some on Monday said they recognize that the police have a difficult job. But they questioned the decision to shoot to kill and said they want more video with audio released to give a full picture. Bill, 50, who did not want his last name used, said he watched the video and was troubled that the confrontation escalated. “It should have been handled differently,” he said. “I just hope that what comes out of this is something good.”

Since the release of the McDonald video in November 2015, rallies and marches have almost become a way of life in Chicago. Protesters have performed die-ins at City Hall, shut down Christmas shopping along Michigan Avenue, and regularly march in the Loop. The weekend before the Augustus shooting, 3,000 people marched down the Dan Ryan Expressway to protest gun violence.

All of those protests have been nonviolent. But on Saturday night, a five-hour march ended in baton-wielding police officers chasing and striking protesters, some of whom threw rocks and glass bottles in their direction.

Emanuel has not made a public statement about Saturday’s shooting and the street violence that followed.

Emanuel has become a focus of critics who say that his priorities are wrong when it comes to investment in the city, favoring downtown and North Side development over neighborhoods that need jobs and infrastructure. His opponents have been particularly critical of a $95 million police and fire academy Emanuel pushed through for City Council approval in May.

Most of Emanuel’s leading challengers released statements Monday suggesting that they understand the public dismay with police accountability and the need for change. Former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot, once an Emanuel appointee to lead the police board, said the police violence toward protesters Saturday night demands an investigation.

“The images I saw from a variety of sources raise serious questions about supervision, use of force and equipment, as well as tactics deployed,” she said.

Another challenger, Troy LaRaviere, a former Chicago Public Schools principal, questioned whether the shooting was justified and why the video lacked audio.

“Our system of policing has been found to unjustly target African American communities for everything from issuing parking tickets, to setting up DUI checkpoints, to the unconstitutional use of force,” he wrote on Facebook. “It is of great concern to know this same disparate system is being used to stop African American men who — like many white Chicagoans — arm themselves for protection.”

However, McCarthy, the former Chicago police superintendent fired by Emanuel after the release of the McDonald video, wrote on Twitter that the shooting “appears to be justified.” He also suggested that Augustus fled from officers because there remains a lingering lack of trust between the community and the police.

“Incidents like this underscore the need for a new mayor who can bring us together, promote understanding, and open dialogue,” he said.

Yet almost as a reminder that the violence problem is urgent, two women were shot by random bullets fired from a car one block north of the rally 45 minutes before it started. Both victims were taken to nearby hospitals.

Mark Guarino. July 16, 2018, Washington Post, “Protests in Chicago continue after officials release video of police shooting”,

Chicago Police Release Bodycam Footage Of Deadly Shooting

Maggie Penman,

This frame grab from police bodycam video provided by the Chicago Police Department shows authorities trying to apprehend a suspect (center), who appeared to be armed, Saturday in Chicago. The suspect was fatally shot by police during the confrontation.

Chicago Police Department via AP

Updated at 6:36 p.m. ET

Protests in Chicago escalated on Saturday night, becoming a tense clash between demonstrators and police over the fatal shooting of a man on the city’s South Side.

On Sunday, police released a 30-second video clip from an officer’s body-worn camera showing a black man shot by Chicago police had a gun in a holster at his hip. According to The Associated Press, the man was “running away and reaching toward his waist when he was shot multiple times.”

The AP reports four officers are seen in the video approaching the man outside a store:

“An officer points to Augustus’ waist and he backs away. Three officers try to grab his arms and he tries to get away, backing into a police cruiser as his shirt flies up and shows the gun.

“The footage pauses and zooms in on the weapon. He then runs away and into the street as a police SUV drives up. He spins and darts between the SUV and the police cruiser as he reaches toward his waist.

The medical examiner has identified the deceased as 37-year-old Harith Augustus.

The original story continues below

The Chicago Tribune described a chaotic scene:

“The shooting happened around 5:30 p.m. at 2098 E. 71st St., and it took police about five hours to bring things under control. Some people screamed “murderers” as officers lined up against them. Some in the crowd held cameras up to take video, while others behind them threw rocks and glass bottles, some filled with urine.

“As officers tried to contain the crowd, some of them dragged people to the ground or struck them with batons. Other officers held batons over their heads to ward off people yelling at them.”

A reporter from the Chicago Sun-Times, Nader Issa, tweeted that he was “repeatedly pushed” by police officers, and that officers also smacked his phone out of his hands.

Puff the Magic Hater @MsKellyMHayes

A black flag waving outside the police station on Cottage Grove in Chicago.

Maggie Penman, , NPR, “Chicago Police Release Bodycam Footage Of Deadly Shooting”,