Dallas activists demand civilian police oversight that gives the community the power to call witnesses and impose discipline on officers. An example of how it could work is Detroit, Michigan, where robust civilian oversight has been in place since 1974.
The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners is an 11 member panel, four appointed by the Detroit Mayor and seven elected by citizens.
The BOPC Chairman is Willie Bell, who retired after 32 years as a Detroit Police Officer, all of those years under the oversight of civilians.
“Our oversight is crucial. Historically it has been proven, cities with oversight have more confidence in their police department,” Bell said.
The Detroit BOPC investigates non-criminal complaints about police, imposes discipline and has authority to oversee police policy and hiring. The unpaid Detroit commissioners have 35 paid staff members and a $3.7 million annual budget.
The existing Dallas Citizen’s Police Review Board has none of that funding or power.
“The people in Dallas need to gravitate to this, study it, review it and embrace it wholeheartedly,” Bell said.
If criminal officer misconduct is alleged, Detroit Police will investigate that first, but the BOPC reviews completed criminal investigations.
The Dallas panel only hears the results of administrative and criminal investigations that are conducted by the police.
Detroit Police Officers Association President Mark Diaz said the BOPC has too much power.
“It’s a flawed system, so to implement a system such as we have in Detroit anywhere else doesn’t make sense at all. It’s definitely taking huge steps backwards and to be very candid, it’s a detriment to the community,” Diaz said.
The Union President said Detroit subjects officers to unjustified discipline that is often overturned by arbitrators. Diaz said he supports civilian oversight, but the Detroit model wastes precious time and money.
“I want for my kids to be able to play outside without having to worry about a drive-by shooting,” Diaz said. “The more we put officers in that position where they are afraid to do their jobs, the less they’re going to be apt to actually enforce the law as diligently as they should.”
Detroit has one of the nations’ highest crime rates. It is a city recovering from bankruptcy. The Detroit Police lost around 800 officers the past five years, many of them to higher paying cities. Detroit population is around one million residents smaller than it was 60 years ago. There is wide spread abandonment of homes and businesses in Detroit.
“Of all the things that have been bad or gone wrong here, one of the things that we can certainly champion is the relationship that our communities have with this police department,” said Pastor Horace Sheffield of Detroit’s New Destiny Christian Fellowship.
Despite an extremely tight Detroit city budget, Sheffield said he still supports the cost of civilian police oversight.
“Those commissioners know that if something happens that’s untoward, that the community is expecting them to exercise the oversight that they’ve elected them to have,” Sheffield said.
Detroit realtor and community leader Lolita Haley is a frequent visitor at the Detroit BOPC.
“When you go to the actual commissioners meeting, you’re able to address what’s not going on in your community or what you think should be going on,” Haley said. “It’s somebody to sit on them. It’s somebody to hold them accountable.”
Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall came to Dallas from Detroit and told NBC 5 in September that she supports expanded civilian oversight in Dallas.
“It is what built trust and legitimacy in our police department. I am a huge proponent of that for the City of Dallas,” Hall said.
Dallas City Council Members have said they want changes.
Dallas emergency physician Brian Williams said he was tasked with reform when Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings appointed him as Chairman of the Dallas Citizens Police Review Board.
Williams and Hall both told NBC 5 Thursday that they are reviewing reform options.