Police Oversight Commissions Chosen by Lot?

Two city councils in California (Culver City, Petaluma) have people on them interested in reforming their police oversight commissions to include members selected by lot. Talks are exploratory at this point, but our group of California democratic lottery activists (Random Access Democracy, or RAD) is advocating with City Council members. We could be more effective if I could hear from anyone in the Equality by Lot readership who has any experience or information that would help us make the case. Right now I do not know of any examples of police oversight commissions chosen by lot. Are there any? Can anyone direct me to any references about them? At this point I know of two apposite resources:

  1. Community Control of Police: A Proposition
  2. Shaunsky Colvich of Democracy Without Elections recently mentioned that Lincoln Steffens, in his book, The Shame of the Cities (1904), described how “a grand jury effectively fought police corruption in Minneapolis. Back then grand juries (selected by lot) had far more power and weren’t as limited in scope or discovery as modern grand juries are, which are usually just rubber stamps for prosecutors . . . never calling their own witnesses or being allowed to do their own research anymore.”

3 Responses

  1. Hi Wayne – welcome to Equality by Lot and thanks for your work.

    How did those two cities become interested in sortition? Did you propose this idea to them, or did they initiate it?

    Also, how about advocating for this idea among the residents of those cities? It seems that generating grass-root interest in sortition could be crucial both at design time and later during implementation.

    Finally, some points regarding the design that I think are very important:

    1. Time investment: it is important that the allotted would be expected to spend significant time – at least one day a week, or 35 hours a month – carrying out their duties. This must not be something that is expected to be done in one’s spare time.

    2. Naturally, the allotted must be paid appropriately: The pay must reflect the effort, where the hourly rate must be at least equal to the average hourly rate in the city.

    3. There must be an effort to focus community attention on the work of the oversight committee and of the allotted in particular. The allotted should have an official media outlet: a prominent website where their findings and decisions are published. In addition, individual members should have space on that site to voice their own ideas and proposals.

    I’d be happy to work with you to develop a more complete and detailed proposal if this would be useful.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yoram,

    I work with a small group of activists. We approached the city council members as there was dissatisfaction with the current panels. If we can get support from inside local government, we’ll certainly extend our reach to the grassroots.

    Your points on design are well-taken. Thanks for your generous offer. I’ll reach out as this develops.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A city councilor in my home city, Burlington, Vermont is also interested in using sortition for a police oversight function, so I have thought a lot about design concepts. I don’t know if we should brainstorm within this Blog thread, or move it over to email. Yoram has my email address.

    One possible thought is to have a fairly small randomly selected body that runs the oversight process (like supervising a small staff, etc.), but that whenever an allegation of police abuse arises, a larger and more representative, short duration grand-jury-like panel is drawn from the community to decide whether an officer shall be removed from working in the community. This is a bit like a jury without a judge or prosecutor steering them. What steering occurs is done by the other random longer term body.

    Liked by 3 people

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