Civilian Review Boards and Ethical Oversight

Introduction

In order to understand the relationship between the civilian review boards and ethical oversight there are a number of considerations that have to be made. First, it is important to establish how wrong and right are defined within or in relation to the police force. Defining right and wrong continues to be a challenge for the most part. This is because actions are not always as simple as right or wrong. Consequentialism argues for actions to be judged, based on their outcomes but there are a lot of situations where the end cannot justify the means. This explains the existence and role of civil review boards and ethical oversight committees, aimed at examining and correcting the work of law enforcement officers. Virtue ethics, however, require actions to be evaluated based on the character of the perpetrator. This implies evoking virtue as a deciding factor in evaluating whether individual’s actions are right or wrong. In both cases, the bottom line is that right and wrong are relative. Using the concept of responsible stewardship, it is conceivable that right and wrong within the police force are defined with a consideration that the role of police is to be a responsible steward who serves and protects the civilians.

The Relationship of Civilian Review Boards to Ethical Oversight in the Criminal Justice Profession

The police have to deal with numerous challenges in the present day, ranging from mistrust and lack of support from the communities within which they operate, to legal limitations that, in some cases, inhibit them from doing their job effectively. At the same time, the police have particularly suffered some significant damages to their reputation over the years, especially, in relation to ethics and commitment to duty. According to Banks (2014), Civilian review boards are formed as a bridge to ensure that the civilians play an active role in advising and evaluating the police department to promote collaboration and ensure cordial working relationship. The police need the support of civilians to succeed in their work and civilians also need the commitment of the police to feel safe. Civilian review boards evaluate the conduct of police officers and determine whether they are right or wrong. Most of the investigation and evaluation, done by the board, is based on complaints about the officer in question. The ethical oversight committee is an in house entity within the police force. The aim of ethical oversight is to ensure that all officers act according to the professional ethics set for the police force. It must be appreciated that the role of the civilian review board is simply to collect complaints and investigate the officers in question (Banks, 2014). The findings and recommendations cannot be acted upon because the police force is not under the civilian review board. The role of ethical oversight is thus to define ethical conduct within the police force and determine the kind of punishment that would be considered as just and fair when the officer is found guilty of unethical conduct. Without the ethical oversight component, the civilian review board would be in charge of the police force, thus undermining the autonomy that enables the force to be effective as a law enforcement agency in the society. In order to evaluate the police officers, civilian review boards often have to consider whether the actions of the officer were right or wrong, based on the context under investigation. To do this, they often have to debate the said actions, using consequentialist and virtue theories. Consequatialist ideologies are rather different from virtue theories, both in content and in context, but they seem to work better when combined with the concept of responsible stewardship (Banks, 2014).

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Consequentialist Arguments

Consequentialism can be considered as a specific class of ethical theories that define right or wrong, based on the consequences of the action. This theory argues that the worth of an act is in its outcome (Turvey & Crowder, 2013). Utilitarian theories under consequentialism argue that individuals are mostly driven by their interests or fears (Bayens & Roberson, 2011). The utilitarian theory considers that the world is divided into two outcomes, that are namely pain and pleasure and these two are totally responsible for the acts of every individual. If an act results in pain, then it is wrong but if it results in pleasure, it has to be right. In some contexts, this perspective is rather simplistic and this cannot be embraced in all contexts. There are a lot of considerations, especially when in a social context. An act may result in pain for the masses and pleasure for the perpetrator (Bayens & Roberson, 2011). This brings about some grey area in determining whether an action is right or wrong. This theory argues for self interests and preservation, implying that people cannot be blamed for hurting the masses if they get to experience positive outcomes at an individual level. This perspective is countered by the virtue theory.

The Virtue Theory

According to this theory, the character of the individual matters in determining whether their actions can be considered as right or wrong. According to this theory, humankind is only able to flourish or achieve its full potential when their actions are based on moral and intellectual virtues that are well intended (Maguire & Okada, 2011). These intentions, however, can only be defined by the individual’s personal traits. Wise and just individuals often act fairly and have a consistently positive intent towards others. People who are rash and arrogant will, on the other hand, always seek to undermine others and prove that they are better within various contexts. The characters, in this case, form the context within which the individual’s actions can be understood, thus providing a basis for judging these actions. This means that when coming up with arguments for or against a given individual, there is a need to define their character before determining whether the actions were perpetrated with a good intention (Banks, 2014). In the case of a police officer, for example, shooting a suspect may be a good or a bad thing, depending on why the suspect was shot. Understanding the shooter’s character and their perspective on criminals may help determine whether the shooting was intentional or an accident and whether it occurred with some malice attached or in a good intent. Understanding that there are far too many possibilities within a given scenario often helps to determine the truth within the given context.

How These Fit In With the Saint Leo Core Value

The Saint Leo core value is responsible stewardship, where it is the role of individual to use the available resources to make the community a better place (Pycroft & Bartollas, 2014). Within the contexts of criminal justice, practitioners need to be able to do the right thing by focusing their judgment of right and wrong to be based on the outcomes, with respect to the community. This means that unlike the consequentialist arguments, where people pursue their own pleasure, while avoiding pain, the concept of responsible stewardship focuses on the pursuit of the greater good. It is the role of the law enforcement to serve and protect people and thus all judgments on ethical conduct are based on what would be good for the society, rather than the individual. Using the virtue theories, the personality of the law enforcement officer should be one that is likely to benefit the society. The law enforcement officer under scrutiny by the civilian review board is likely to be judged based on who they are, both on and off the job. This implies considering how they talk to people, how they treat their neighbors, the kind of friends that they keep and other general components that define their personality (Banks, 2014). People who are generally kind and likeable in this context are likely to get off easily, since they will have proven to have a good personality in terms of their relations with people. If the perpetrator is generally aggressive or has no pleasant relationships to speak of, then they may be automatically considered as bad people. Either way, the relationships with people, in this case, determine whether the character of the police officer under investigation is a good one.   

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Conclusion

The civilian review board may be considered as a small part of the law enforcement entity within a given community, but it actually bridges the gap between the police and the community by offering an external perspective when evaluating and investigating civilian complaints about law officers. The ethical oversight may not be able to evaluate these cases from the civilian perspective, thus there is a need for civilians to do so. Police officers are meant to serve and protect the civilians, meaning that their definition of right and wrong cannot be based on consequentialist perspectives. The relationship between the civilian review board and the ethical oversight is, thus, a partnership where the board investigates and offers recommendations for punishment if the officer is found guilty, while the ethical oversight decides on the severity of the offense based on police ethics and implements the punishment. These two bodies work together to keep criminal justice relevant and effective in the community.

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