Dallas Considers Additional Citizen Police Oversight Power

Reform could give citizens authority over police

Dallas is considering more powerful citizen oversight of police, which is along the lines of what demonstrators who interrupted a City Council meeting Wednesday demand.

Dallas already has a Citizen Police Review Board which only has power to hear discipline cases already investigated by police.

"I think there is consensus across the board that the current board needs to have more power," said Dr. Brian Williams, board chairman.

Williams is a medical doctor, appointed to the position by Mayor Mike Rawlings, and tasked with reform.

“We are working to insure that the citizens have something that they can go to, to insure whatever happens, when there’s a tragedy that occurs, that there is some transparency and accountability,” Williams said.

A reform platform from the Next Generation Action Network calls among other things for a civilian board with the power to investigate police misconduct, subpoena witnesses, impose discipline and make police policy changes.

Dallas Police Chief U. Rene Hall came from Detroit, where police have been under civilian oversight since 1974. The Detroit board has power to review the police budget, approves police promotions and is the final authority on discipline.

Hall attended Wednesday’s Dallas City Council meeting and spoke privately with some of the demonstrators afterward along with Mayor Rawlings.

Hall did not return a request for comment Thursday, but some of the demonstrators said she and Mayor Rawlings have been receptive to suggestions for reform.

Dr. Alex Del Carmen is a Tarleton State University Criminal Justice Professor who also serves as a court appointed monitor over police agencies. He has worked with New Orleans Police in the past and is currently responsible for internal affairs oversight of 15,000 officers in Puerto Rico.

Del Carmen said there are complications with citizen oversight.

“I am certain a lot of police chiefs are listening to this and wondering what exactly their role is going to be if you give the community all of this authority and they have very little or none when it comes to disciplining an officer,” Del Carmen said.

He said most cities have declined to surrender so much control to citizens. It may cause overlapping investigations where a citizen board attempts to force testimony from the same witnesses who are called by police and prosecutors.

“It really and truly opens a ‘Pandora’s Box.’ I would be the last person in the Metroplex to oppose the idea of community involvement or transparency with policing in the community. But I think we have to be very careful as to how we implement that today,” Del Carmen said.

Del Carmen said no Texas cities have granted complete oversight of police to citizens.

The City of Austin has a police monitor system and has researched alternatives.

Williams said his Dallas board is also reviewing options.

“We’re all interested in insuring that this process is fair and transparent. And whatever that end product is, we’re not there yet,” Williams said.

The Dallas Police Review Board met on Tuesday, but did not have the current controversy over the death of Botham Jean by off duty officer Amber Guyger on the agenda for discussion.

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