A revised plan for expanded civilian oversight of Dallas Police won praise Wednesday from City Council Members and citizens at a public hearing.
The plan is the result of years of community meetings and revisions from an initial proposal submitted to City Council Members just last month.
"Substantially improved," is the way Dallas City Council Member Philip Kingston described the revisions. "I'm pretty impressed," he said.
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The plan would add funding, staff and authority to the existing Dallas Police Review Board that is appointed by the Mayor and Dallas City Council Members.
The new oversight board would still have 15 appointed members but it would get a paid staff of three people to investigate critical police incidents and citizen complaints. The new panel with have the ability to exercise existing power that the old panel was never able to use to seek sworn testimony from witnesses. But the new board would still be forbidden from issuing subpoenas to police officers.
"We are providing a level of transparency to the public, and we are still safeguarding the rights and the due process of investigations and the rights of the officers," said Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata.
Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall would retain ultimate authority for officer discipline.
"This is a part of 21st century policing," Hall said. "Cities across the country are looking to police oversight to insure that we are transparent. It is important that our community is able to trust the investigations that we conduct and able to see the inner workings of the police department."
Hall supported expanded civilian oversight in Dallas ever since she arrived from Detroit. That city has a much more powerful civilian police review panel with a paid staff of 35 people and $3.7 million annual budget. By comparison, Hall estimated the Dallas staff would cost between $300,000 and $500,000 a year.
Despite overall support from City Council Members some concerns were raised Wednesday.
City Councilman Rickey Callahan said he wants people with law enforcement knowledge appointed to the Dallas panel that will have expanded oversight authority.
"I don't want irresponsible people who don't understand anything about law enforcement being overseers of our police department," Callahan said. "That's unfair."
Councilman Kevin Felder was concerned that a technical advisory panel is made up of all law enforcement people.
"I want to make sure that the citizens have an impact at every level," Felder said.
The overwhelming majority of 32 speakers who signed up for an afternoon public hearing on the topic supported the latest plan after two years of controversy and public meetings.
"I want to start off by thanking the city leadership as well as Chief Hall," said activist Dominique Alexander with the Next Generation Action Network.
His praise came in sharp contrast to past demonstrations Alexander led against Dallas Police, including one hours earlier at City Hall over handling of the Deep Ellum assault case.
The Caucasian suspect seen on cell phone video beating an African American victim earlier this month was only charged with a felony after days of community protests.
A felony charge filed by Dallas Police against the African American assault victim on Tuesday for damage to the suspect's car was dismissed by the District Attorney Wednesday.
Alexander said issues like the Deep Ellum case are reasons to have a more powerful Oversight Board.
"Areas of misconduct by law enforcement can be brought up in this proposed Civilian Police Oversight Board," he said.
Several citizens at the public hearing opposed any additional civilian authority over police.
"We have a very diverse City Council. We are a wonderful city. We are not a racist city," said oversight opponent Diane Benjamin. "This is a question of being constructive, leaving a legacy."
A final Dallas City Council vote on the revised plan is set for April 24.