On whether Civilian Review Boards “matter”

Came across a new article in @ASR_Journal by @StanfordSoc Prof. Susan Olzak entitled "Does Protest Against Police Violence Matter? Evidence from
U.S. Cities, 1990 through 2019" (/1)


As a way to measure the political efficacy of public protest as a mode of civic engagement, she examines the likelihood of protests against police killings resulting in the establishment of a civilian review board (CRB) & then then compares the effects on counts of fatalities. She claims her findings support two hypotheses: (1) cities with more protest against police brutality are significantly more likely to establish a CRB, and (2) protest against police brutality reduces officer-involved fatalities for African American and Latino individuals. However, she concludes “the establishment of CRBs does not reduce fatalities, as some have hoped”

This is interesting work, and I’ll have to sit with it some more to have a firm understanding of the methods & data upon which the above conclusions are drawn. HOWEVER I think two points are important here. FIRST, this is only one study. Identifying any kind of causal framework that can explain police killings is extremely hard, making it tricky to take as complex ad varied a phenomenon as CRB & make clear causal arguments about them based on aggregated data

For example, here in Washtenaw County alone we have 5 major CRB’s, but they each have very different charters, membership, authorities, goals, etc. This formal variety is even more dramatic when taking into account large cities and more rural areas. But without that specificity, without understanding or accounting for the important substantive differences in what CRB can mean, it’s lumping apples and oranges and bananas etc all together in a bowl, giving it all one name, & saying “it doesn’t look like fruit does anything”. Which, of course, may in fact be creating noise covering up the fact that specific *types* of fruit–or, to emerge from the metaphor, CRB–might actually be capable of producing the desired effect

SECOND, although I agree that some proponents of CRB’s may support them for the narrow hope that they may lead to fewer killings–as I also hope they do–it is not clear that this narrow metric is an appropriate one to measure the success of CRB’s in general. Examples of other potential metrics for assessing the “effectiveness” of CRB’s: how about assessing their effect on police violence (including non-lethal types) in general? How about their effects on arrest rates? On unsubstantiated stops? On racial disparities? Importantly for me, CRB’s may have the potential to provide institutional authority to many voices that are sidelined in discussions of public safety; voices of people who are paradoxically often the most targeted by such policies

The point is that we can't understand whether CRB's *work* until we have a better sense of what the people protesting for, & then working on & with, CRB's *hope* they can do. At least to this point in my research, "reduce police killings" seems too narrow to capture that /end

Originally tweeted by Dr. Kevin Karpiak (@kevinkarpiak) on December 4, 2021.

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