Police And Civilian Watchdogs

Civilian oversight of police departments is fine in principle, but only if the overseers are themselves principled.
Civilian oversight of police departments is fine in principle, but only if the overseers are themselves principled.

Consider this hypothetical: Dr. Jones is the lead surgeon on a medical team composed of highly trained and experienced doctors, nurses, and technicians. One day an emergency surgery is required and the team is hastily assembled. Some members respond from hospitals and offices in various parts of the city while others come from their homes. But the team has trained together often and has handled many similar emergencies in the past, almost always with satisfactory outcomes. During this surgery the team confronts unexpected complications, and despite their best efforts the patient dies on the operating table.

Later, after an inquiry, a panel of “experts” overseeing the hospital issues a report finding fault with Dr. Jones and the members of his team, citing what they perceive to be the lapses in judgment that led to the patient’s death. Appearing before the panel, Dr. Jones speaks for his team. “May I ask,” he says, “where all of you experts attended medical school? And may I ask how many of these surgeries you’ve performed yourselves?”

“We’re not doctors,” say the experts.

“As I suspected,” says Dr. Jones. “And have you, by any chance, ever watched one of these surgeries performed?”

“Well, no,” say the experts, “but we’ve seen every episode of Grey’s Anatomy!”

This is absurd, of course. No one of sound mind would construct a system in which a doctor’s actions during surgery are judged by people with no medical training. Nor would you ask a layman to pass judgment on soldiers, pilots, firefighters, or anyone else whose profession requires experience and specialized knowledge to perform under stress.

Anyone else, that is, except a police officer. When it comes to police work, anyone and everyone can be an expert.

[Interesting Read]

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I’m ever reminded of a documentary I saw many years ago – decades – of a vocal Police critic submitting to a video training exercise. The scenario was simple: an escaped convict, last seen near a public park, possibly armed and dangerous. And when the video had a man suddenly rushing out from behind a tree, brandishing a gun and firing, our anti-violence, police-need-better-training-and-sensitivity critic took out her training gun and blindly shot back … with children in a playground directly in the line of fire. Priceless. This type of training should be mandatory for the arm-chair generals who think… Read more »