Police and Community leaders had strong reactions Friday to Thursday’s NBC5 Vision 2020 report on Detroit’s strong Civilian Police oversight.
Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall came from Detroit and she has said she supports the Detroit method for Dallas.
The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners has 11 members, 7 elected by the public. The BOPC has 35 staff members and a $3.7 million budget with power to investigate non-criminal complaints against police, render discipline and set policy.
“Then what are your commanders doing? It cuts the knees out from under your command staff and what they’re job is supposed to be,” said Dallas Police Associations President Mike Mata.
The existing Dallas Police Review Board only hears reports on investigations already completed by police. It accepts citizen complaints but lacks funding or staff to take independent action on those complaints. The Dallas board has 14 members appointed by the Dallas Mayor and City Council Members.
Dallas Board Chairman Brian Williams, a Dallas physician, was appointed by Mayor Mike Rawlings and tasked with recommending reforms.
“We’re doing what we can to enhance the power of the board to insure the public has confidence in the review process,” Williams said.
The September shooting death of Botham Jean in his own apartment by off duty Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger has increased calls for more powerful civilian oversight.
“I think it’s a must if Dallas wants to move forward into a positive partnership between police and community,” said Pastor Freddie Haynes of Friendship West Baptist Church. “Especially in honor of Botham Jean, we need to have the accountability that can move us forward as opposed to the tension and hostility that often exists between the black community and the blue community.”
Haynes said his wife is from Detroit and he is a frequent visitor to that city where he sometimes preaches.
“I know first-hand that the relationship between the black community especially and the police department in Detroit is much better than what we have here. And so I understand what the chief is proposing. I back it 110 percent,” Haynes said.
Next Generation Action Network leader Dominique Alexander has led Dallas demonstrations demanding that a Dallas civilian board receive the Detroit kind of power.
“We should have a voice at the table,” Alexander said. “It's about accountability. If you are doing the job right, you shouldn't have any problem with this board.”
Police Union Leader Mata said spending so much money on a new layer of oversight would be a tremendous waste in Dallas where the Police Department badly needs hundreds more officers.
“There’s paths already here that maybe we could improve so the community has a better say or has more say or has a better say in what their concerns are,” Mata said. “The city of Dallas is not Detroit. We don’t have the same problems Detroit has.”
Alexander said city money paid to settle Dallas Police excessive force lawsuits in recent years could cover the cost of Detroit’s style of civilian oversight, but the Dallas budget for oversight could be smaller at first.
"We do want this board to have an efficient staff. We want this board to effectively do it’s job," Alexander said.
Williams said the existing board is reviewing options now after a year of research.
“There’s no cookie cutter approach to this,” Williams said. “One doesn’t fit every single city. So you look at what your community needs and try to get a board that will serve those needs.”
Williams intends to have a recommendation from his Dallas Police Review Board for the Dallas City Council by the end of the year. Dallas City Council Members have said they want action.