Police Community Advisory Boards: How to Establish and Sustain Highly Effective Ones

Sydney R. Roberts, JD

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Sep 15, 2022

Across the United States, city governments, local police leaders and community groups are intensifying their focus on issues central to improving the delivery of policing services. These include concerns that range from transparency in daily operations to community policing. At the core of these initiatives is the concept of establishing police community advisory boards (CAB). It’s impressive how effective these boards can be when they are structured, led, funded and sustained in the right way.

Rather than simply “standing up” a board in a spontaneous and ad hoc manner, it is strongly recommended that political, policy, police and community leaders implement them thoughtfully and in line with “lessons learned” from the past experiences of others. The following are best practices for establishing and sustaining effective CAB.

1. Establish Legitimacy

Public support is critical to the CAB’s success. As the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has outlined, “A successful advisory board demonstrates to the community that its police department is making an effort to listen to them and that officers care about finding the best way to serve them. By asking for community input via advisory boards, departments demonstrate transparency and commitment to their communities.”

  • Engage the community: The purpose of the board is to serve the community, therefore it makes sense that the community should be part of establishing the board and creating its mission, vision and goals.
  • Ensure representative membership: The board should reflect the community it serves, including people of different races, religions, ages, genders, sexual orientations, abilities and socioeconomic statuses. In addition to community involvement, CAB membership should also include participation and representation of the chief of police and elected officials.
  • Secure buy-in from law enforcement: It’s very important that law enforcement leaders and stakeholders be willing to listen and empathize with CAB members’ points of view. Along with participating in difficult conversations, they should be prepared to acknowledge harm and accept criticism, where appropriate.

2. Structure the Board with Care and Forethought

The success of your CAB depends on how effectively it cultivates honest, open and transparent communication, provides meaningful advice in policing policy and practices, and facilitates non-enforcement-related engagements.

  • Establish a charter and bylaws: Specify the board’s mission, authority and objectives. Create clear roles and responsibilities. Be sure to define key elements, such as the scope of autonomy, meeting protocols and conflict resolution procedures.
  • Define key policies, practices and training requirements: Identify and outline policies related to use-of-force, officer-involved shootings (OIS), critical incident response and transparency, bias-related data, complaint handling, and stops, searches and arrests (seizures). Issues involving the use of any technology that might trigger privacy rights should also be addressed, such as body-worn cameras, audio/visual recordings and license-plate recognition.
  • Ensure that board meeting agendas are developed fairly: Make certain that meeting itineraries reflect input from both the police and the community.

3. Strengthen the board’s continuity and sustainability

Your board should be resilient and capable of operating effectively for many years.

  • Provide fiscal and administrative support: Consider your board’s funding and staff support needs while you’re still in the process of its creation. Don’t wait until you’ve finished.
  • Establish term limits: Decide how long members should serve on the board so the community can be sure that diverse perspectives are always represented. IACP recommends consulting potential members and law enforcement leadership to determine the appropriate term length and number of terms each member can serve.
  • Select members who are committed: Ensure that board members are dedicated to their position and are ready to actively participate. This includes listening, communicating through conflict and respecting opinions that may not align with their own.

4. Promote Transparency

The most effective boards operate with a high level of openness and transparency across stakeholder groups.

  • Publicize the board’s formation: Explain why the board has been formed, including its purpose, goals and intended outcomes. Share its bylaws openly.
  • Establish a dedicated website and social media presence: Enhance board awareness and communication by utilizing digital platforms and channels. Other effective publicity measures could also include posting flyers on community boards in libraries, coffee shops and community centers. In essence, do whatever it takes to raise awareness of the CAB.
  • Publicize CAB meetings, activities and actions: Once a place to communicate has been identified, and the board’s presence established, let your community know about the CAB’s various activities and the reasons behind them. Publish meeting agendas and member bios. Share what the CAB is working on and the results of their inquiries and reviews. The more information the community has, the more they will trust the CAB.
  • Ensure all community members have access to the CAB: Because your community is diverse, be sure to tailor your message as necessary to reach the broadest audience possible. In addition to publishing information in different languages, provide information in audio clips. And if you elect to have public meetings, change your meeting sites to allow people from different areas and with different accessibility needs to attend. In general, be as inclusive with your message and information-sharing as possible.

Establishing a police civilian advisory board in your community can help bridge the gap between law enforcement and civilians. It can boost the approval ratings of law enforcement and might even improve job satisfaction for officers. It can regenerate community trust in the police and, in some cases, elected officials. Most importantly, it can go a long way toward easing conflict and making a real difference in the lives of your residents.

Click here to learn more about Jensen Hughes’ law enforcement consulting services.

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About the author

Sydney R. Roberts, JD
A proven leader in police accountability, Sydney has provided insight and guidance on civil and human rights matters impacting law enforcement, including illegal search and seizure, denial of counsel and officer-involved shootings.