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Establishing systems of accountability

There is a growing movement throughout the country to develop community-led structures for holding the police accountable to the people they claim to serve and to oppose the abusive and unchecked practice of policing. We believe that establishing new means for fully independent oversight, discipline, and control of the police is a step towards breaking down the institution of policing and is ultimately a building block for greater community control.

In DC, the Office of Police Complaints and the Police Complaints Board exist as a supposed check on the power and impunity of the police, but in reality all disciplinary and policy-making authorities still reside with the police departments themselves.

recommendations for Effective oversight and control boards

  • Comprised of civilian board members nominated by local organizations, or otherwise democratically selected by the community, not by the Mayor or people in office.

  • Authority to conduct a broad range of fully independent investigations, including subpoena power.

  • Authority to make binding disciplinary and policy decisions, including those related to the funding of police programs and firing of officers.

  • Authority to perform regular auditing of police department policies and practices.

  • Established funding from the City, tied to the size of the overall police budget so that if ever the police department grows the board does too.

  • Established means for sharing information publicly with the community and for reporting regularly on the practices of both the police department and the board itself.

  • Operate with the presumption that discipline is required in cases of excessive use of force, injury, or death at the hands of police, not the presumption that the actions of police officers are always justified.

Also check out this resource from Critical Resistance on abolitionist vs. reformist policies toward policing.


key provisions of dc office of police complaints and police complaints board that need to change


1. On the five-person Police Complaints Board, one person is required to be a member of MPD.


The PCB needs to be an independent authority with no affiliation to MPD.


2. Board members are appointed by the Mayor, subject to confirmation by the Council. They generally serve a three-year term and may be appointed again.


A board chosen by the mayor is unlikely to be representative of DC residents as a whole, particularly not of those residents who are most heavily policed.


3. After screening a complaint, the PCB’s Executive Director may take one of the following actions:


(1) dismiss the complaint, with the concurrence of one member of the Board;


On a board where one member is obligated to be a representative of MPD, the Executive Director (selected by the Mayor) only needs one other member to agree to dismiss a complaint.


(2) refer the complaint to the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia for possible criminal prosecution;


When officers do not even get indicted for killing civilians, this action cannot be of any real consequence.


(3) attempt to conciliate the complaint;


(4) refer the complaint to mediation;


(5) refer the complaint for investigation;


If a complaint is sustained after investigation, disciplinary authority still lies solely with MPD; the PCB has no power to enforce its own recommendations.


(6) refer the subject police officer or officers to complete appropriate policy training by MPD or HAPD.


Training conducted by MPD cannot be trusted to amend for the department’s abusive practices.


4. If an employee of MPD does not cooperate fully with the Office of Police Complaints in the investigation and adjudication of a complaint, the Police Chief retains the authority to discipline that employee.


The PCB should have authority to discipline officers for failure to cooperate; the process should be independent of MPD authority.


5. If a complaint examiner determines that one or more allegations in a complaint are sustained, the Police Chief and MPD retain the authority to determine and implement any disciplinary action.


The PCB should have authority to enforce rather than simply make recommendations on discipline and policy; discipline should be independent of MPD.

organizations doing work around police accountability in dc and elsewhere

  • Pan-African Community Action - http://www.pacadmv.org/

    PACA regularly hosts popular education events in Southeast DC and is working towards community control of the police. Learn more here.

  • Stop Police Terror Project DC - https://www.sptdc.com/

  • Black Lives Matter DC - www.blacklivesmatterdmv.org/

    SPTP and BLM recently filed jointly to sue DC for failure to publicly release stop and frisk data as required by the NEAR Act. Read more here.

For more info on oversight, see: Udi Ofer, Getting It Right: Building Effective Civilian Review Boards to Oversee Police, Seton Hall Law Review, Vol.46:1033