Topic:
STATE BOARDS AND COMMISSIONS; LAW ENFORCEMENT (GENERAL);
Location:
BOARDS AND COMMISSIONS; POLICE;
Scope:
Connecticut laws/regulations;

OLR Research Report


April 05, 2001

 

2001-R-0383

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN CIVILIAN POLICE REVIEW BOARDS AND POLICE COMMISSIONS

 

By: Sandra Norman-Eady, Chief Attorney

You wanted to know the difference between a civilian police review board and a police commission.

SUMMARY

The difference between a police commission and civilian review board appears to be practical rather than legal. The Connecticut General Statutes contain references to police commissions but none to civilian police review boards. In fact, the law authorizes towns to establish a police commission by ordinance and species the authority they must give them. But there is no comparable provision for civilian review boards. However, PB 150 (An Act Concerning Civilian Review Boards), currently in the Judiciary Committee, authorizes towns to establish civilian review boards with subpoena power to investigate allegations of police misconduct. The Judiciary Committee voted to fully draft the bill on January 22, 2001, but has yet to take any additional action.

The practical difference between a commission and a review board appears to be that the former manages and supervises police departments while the latter oversees police misconduct issues only. Additionally, only a commission appears to have the authority to overrule a police chief's decision regarding misconduct.

POLICE COMMISSIONS

A police commission is responsible for managing and supervising the town's police department and any property and equipment used in connection therewith. It is exclusively responsible for appointing, promoting, and removing police officers and other members of the department. It has authority to subpoena witnesses and commit a person to a correctional facility for failure to testify. It adopts regulations to carry out its responsibilities and functions and may prescribe penalties for regulation violations (CGS 7-276). We have attached two OLR reports, 2000-R-1048 and 93-R-0217, that explain in greater detail police commissions' duties, composition, and appointments.

Table 1 lists 44 Connecticut towns that currently have police commissions.

TABLE 1: TOWNS WITH POLICE COMMISSIONS

Ansonia

Easton

Newtown

Stamford

Berlin

East Windsor

North Branford

Stonington

Bethel

Fairfield

North Haven

Suffield

Branford

Guilford

Norwalk

Waterbury

Bridgeport

Madison

Plainfield

Waterford

Bristol

Milford

Plymouth

Watertown

Brookfield

Monroe

Redding

West Haven

Clinton

Naugatuck

Ridgefield

Weston

Colchester

New Britain

Seymour

Wilton

Cromwell

New Canaan

Simsbury

Windsor Locks

East Haven

New Haven

Southington

Woodbridge

CIVILIAN REVIEW BOARDS

Civilian review boards are not managerial or supervisory boards. They typically have oversight over police misconduct, which can be exercised in many different ways.

A recent report by the National Institute of Justice compared four different civilian oversight review board models. In the first, citizens investigate allegations of police misconduct and submit recommended findings to the chief of police. In the second model, police officers investigate allegations and submit findings to the board. The board reviews them and makes recommendations to the chief of police regarding approval or rejection. Under the third model, complainants may appeal police department findings to citizens who review them and then submit their own recommended findings to the police chief. Under the fourth model, an auditor investigates the process by which the police department accepts and investigates complaints and reports on the thoroughness and fairness of the process to the department and the public.

A 1995 Bureau of Justice Statistics report, based on a 1993 survey of police departments with more than 100 officers, shows four Connecticut police departments with civilian review boards: Bridgeport, East Hartford, Hartford, and West Hartford. The boards in the two departments we contacted, Hartford and West Hartford, follow the second model (i.e., the board reviews the findings made by police after an investigation).

A March 21, 2001 article in the New Haven Register stated that New Haven's mayor planned to issue an executive order that day creating a nine-member civilian board to oversee police misconduct. Meanwhile, a city alderman has proposed an ordinance to create a 14-member civilian police review board. We have attached a copy of the article for your information.

SN-E:ro