Community Advisory Boards: What Works and What Doesn’t (Lessons From a National Study)

Julian Clark* & Barry Friedman**

Volume 47.2

* Policing Fellow, The Policing Project, New York University School of Law. The Policing Project was assisted by the law firm of Latham & Watkins and received generous support from the Charles Koch Foundation. We would especially like to thank Michael Wilt, from the Charles Koch Foundation; former Policing Project Senior Program Manager Brian Chen; as well as Mike Faris, BJ Trach, Bob Simms, Meredith Monroe, Sushma Raju, John Steinbach, Jeffrey Bashara and others from Latham & Watkins LLP, who worked pro bono to help research, conduct interviews, and visit CABs across the country. We are grateful for the partnership and benefited from it.

** Jacob D. Fuchsberg Professor of Law and Faculty Director, Policing Project, New York University School of Law.

Abstract

Community Advisory Boards (“CABs”) are one of the most common forms of police-community engagement bodies in the country. Both progressive  leaders of policing agencies and proponents of civilian oversight frequently cite a range of potential benefits of CABs to both police and the communities they serve.  As a result, CABs continue to grow across the country. This interest in CABs has continued with insufficient study and evaluation of whether CABs actually play any meaningful oversight or community-engagement role. In order to assess this, the Policing Project conducted an in-depth, national study of CABs.

The study revealed that in practice, many community advisory boards suffer from a number of deficiencies—some quite serious—that often inhibit their ability to achieve their intended purpose. Too often CABs are a result of pro forma efforts by policing agencies to signal a commitment to working with the public—without really working with the public. This Article presents the lessons learned from the study, and offers practical guidance on establishing and operating effective CABs.

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