Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Civilian Boards Strain for Funds to Watch Cops

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Civilian Boards Strain for Funds to Watch Cops

Article excerpt

IN New York, dozens of police in tightly organized gangs have been stealing drugs and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in five precincts, the Mollen Commission on Police Corruption announced last month.

Targeting and terrorizing drug-infested minority communities, they beat drug dealers who wouldn't cooperate and lied so often under oath that they invented a name for it - "testi-lying." Residents said they believed the department would ignore their complaints and protect corrupt officers.

After overcoming bitter resistance from police unions, various forms of civilian oversight to review allegations of police misconduct have spread from a handful of cities to 48 of the 100 largest United States cities over the last decade.

But as civilian-review supporters gather for their 10th annual conference next week, many are worried that a lack of funding, public indifference, and continued resistance from some of the nation's 600,000 police officers are keeping civilian review from being fully implemented.

"I think in general there's a malaise around the civilian-review board movement," says Arthur Ellis, vice chairman of the Richmond, Calif.-based International Association for Civilian Oversight in Law Enforcement. "I've gotten a lot of calls from people trying to set up boards that have run into difficulties and roadblocks we didn't have in the past."

Even existing boards have had trouble remaining effective.

* In Washington, a federal judge ruled last year that the city's police review board was so underfunded and responded so slowly and leniently to complaints that it actually encouraged misconduct by police.

* In New York, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is being criticized for not fully funding the city's new civilian review board. And Mr. Giuliani, who opposed civilian review as a candidate, has not committed to giving subpoena power to a new independent agency to investigate police corruption as recommended by the Mollen Commission, headed by Judge Milton Mollen.

* In Miami, a request for subpoena power for a civilian review board that oversees police and all government agencies in Dade County was rejected by the county commissioners last year. And in Los Angeles, longtime calls for a civilian review board are fading from the public eye in the face of opposition from the city's police union.

Police unions say the recent corruption findings in New York and the Rodney King beating case overshadow the fact that the vast majority of police forces and officers are hard-working and honest. The unions say civilian review is unnecessary, and police commissioners should be fired if they cannot stop misconduct.

"In general, police officers are suspicious of civilian review boards," says Liz Langston, research director for the National Fraternal Order of Police, which represents 250,000 unionized police officers. …

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