OTOH, it also represents a common path for police-reform efforts: Indeed, I've never seen it work otherwise. Seldom does the first wave of reforms installed achieve their goals because police have been so powerful over the years, they usually can keep the most important changes from happening. So frequently a second round of reform is needed, maybe a third, once the board has been installed, operated for a few years, and its shortcomings become clear.
In H-Town, they are now clear. Houston city council members have suggested an aggressive reform package aimed at improving oversight and empowering the board. Mayor Sylvester Turner appointed a task force to propose its own reforms, which are significant but not as aggressive as the council members wanted. (That said, the mayor doesn't always back the findings of his various task forces.)
There is no short-term fix on these questions. It always takes years, potentially decades, never weeks or months. Ask Johnny Mata, who's been at this work for more than four decades, was involved in getting the board created initially, and now spends his waking hours trying to improve it.
We see this at the Legislature: They passed the initial law requiring gathering of racial-profiling data in 2001, didn't begin collecting the reports from departments statewide until 2009, and finally acknowledged the data's shortcomings and made it more robust in 2017. Even then, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement screwed up implementation of the 2017 legislation, failing to collect racial breakdowns for most of the so-called "racial profiling" dataset. It's being fixed now and by 2021 - twenty years after Texas' racial profiling law first passed! - Texas' data will be robust enough to identify discriminatory practices.
Your correspondent spent five years involved in a campaign culminating in creation of Austin's Police Monitor and review board around the turn of the century; after the police union gutted it in closed-door negotiations, the system was a disaster, and we weren't able to fix the biggest problems until 18 years later, when the Austin Justice Coalition won changes to the police-union contract. It's still far from perfect, but it did significantly expand complaint intake, putting it in civilian hands and providing de-identified, public accounts of alleged misconduct. We now see written reprimands in addition to cases where officers are suspended, thanks to changes in APD's 2018 contract.
So, we're getting useful information out of the process and the Office of Police Oversight has become an occasional counterweight to the police union and anti-reform police administrators who'd prefer to avoid the topic.
That's far from the vision of an independent board that investigates and punishes officers outside of law enforcement's purview. But it's not clear to me anyone has completely dis-empowered the police hierarchy in departmental discipline, anywhere, nor am I certain it's a good idea. Police management may frequently disappoint when it comes to punishing misconduct, but they're 1) closest to the problem and 2) the only ones empowered under state law to do it (at least, for Ch. 143 civil service cities like Austin and Houston).
Grits has come to believe that empowering police managers to manage personnel is a necessary pre-requisite to holding them accountable, as counter-intuitive as that may seem. I may believe Austin Police Chief Brian Manley should be fired, but I generally want his position to become more empowered within the disciplinary process, at least when it comes to his ability to punish and fire wrong-doers among his officers.
Making sure that, when a bad cop is fired, they don't repeatedly get back on the force is an important aspect of cleaning up a department. For the time being, state law forbids empowering a civilian review board to take over that task in Houston or Austin, and the chance of Greg Abbott or Dan Patrick approving legislation to change that fall somewhere along the shady line between "slim" and "none."
Protesters this summer wanted things "now," but as budget battles nearly everywhere but Austin proved, police reform doesn't typically happen on a "now" timeline. And even in Austin, what really happened is a process was created that will take years to fully implement.
So yes, by all means, fight for police reform. But settle in for the long haul.