OCSO adds citizen advisory board

OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) is in the “clay molding phase” of implementing a citizen advisory board.

According to The Police Chief Magazine article “Citizen Advisory Boards in Contemporary Practice: A Practical Approach in Policing,” citizen advisory boards can be defined as a group of individuals appointed for the purpose of examining a public issue or set of issues, who meet over an extended period of time, and develop alternative solutions and new ideas through comprehensive interaction. A citizen advisory board is restricted to a small number of people who are expected to represent the interests of the public. A board may be asked to conduct research, generate new ideas or solutions, or provide informed recommendations on public policies and practices.

Okeechobee County Sheriff Noel E. Stephen explained, “We are in the ‘clay molding’ phase, as this is a work in progress,” of the citizen advisory board.

“There is no political clout with this group of individuals,” he continued. “We meet three times a year, and I’m going to take into consideration every one of their opinions when I’m developing policies, protocols, and other objectives.”

Currently the CAB includes 15 people – all business professionals with ages ranging from late 20s to early 60s – from eight different categories that have been selected. Sheriff Stephen said he would like for half of the board members to serve one year and the other half to serve two years in order to be able to cycle them out and not have to replace everyone at the same time.

The current advisory board members include Mariah Anuez and county administrator Robbie Chartier representing the county; Mayor Dowling R. Watford Jr. and City Administrator Marcos Montes De Oca representing the city; Keith Walpole and Justin Domer representing the business demographic; Cary McKee and Willie Cope representing the faith demography; Malissa Morgan and Demetre Riles representing for the schools; Tabitha Trent and Ken Keller representing the civic demographic; Lauren Butler, representing agriculture; and, Cheryl Kirton along with Sylvester Whittaker representing of residents.

A citizen advisory board is not a policy-making body. Law enforcement leaders cannot transfer their administrative accountability and legal responsibilities to a citizen board. Law enforcement executives have the managerial, legal, and political responsibility to lead their organization.

However, the establishment of a citizen advisory board for specific policy or project recommendations, strategic planning, or the review of personnel practices can be useful.
Sheriff Stephen added, “The initial task will be reviewing the new and current strategic plan.”

According to The Police Chief Magazine article, democracy is a core value of U.S. society, and citizens have a fundamental right to participate. In addition, it has been widely argued that citizen participation in governmental policy making produces many benefits, and because citizen participation promotes trust in governmental operation, it has continued to be a long-standing value of U.S. public administration. However, historically, the value has not been embraced by law enforcement in a meaningful manner.

The article continues that, “Local administrative agencies have a long history of seeking out citizen participation via public meetings and hearings, public workshops, feedback surveys, and steering committees. Empirical evidence has underscored the limitations of such practices in terms of reaching true consensus. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, in order to improve upon the one-way flow of information that takes place in the public meeting forum, citizen advisory boards started to surface, which can overcome several limitations inherent in traditional citizen participation efforts.

According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, on Dec. 18, 2015, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order appointing an 11-member task force on 21st century policing to respond to a number of serious incidents between law enforcement and the communities they serve and protect. The President wanted a quick but thorough response that would begin the process of healing and restore community trust.

Within the study, citizen advisory boards or community involvement were specifically recommended as action items for local law enforcement as well as support and collaboration with the federal government, training and education, improved technologies, and officer wellness and safety programs. The importance to promote and cultivate citizen involvement with law enforcement organizations has become critical over recent years, and the implementation of boards and commissions must be done in a way to facilitate a meaningful and effective relationship.

The implementation of body-worn cameras was an ideal example of a project that might greatly benefit from the perspective of a citizen board. A citizen advisory board can be a critical component to establishing an open culture between a public agency and the community. “The people may not agree with me, but at least they will be able to see where their tax dollars are going, the more transparent I can be, the better,” expressed Sheriff Stephen.

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