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Revamped Citizens Review Board for Dallas Cops Takes Shape

A little more than two months after activists shut down a Dallas City Council meeting while calling for police reform following an officer's killing an unarmed man i n his own apartment, the city has plans for a toughened up Citizens Review Board for the police department.

According to a memo from City Manager T.C. Broadnax, the Citizens Review Board will, if the City Council agrees, be given subpoena power next year. It will also get its own budget to conduct external investigations via a newly established "independent investigative arm." The board will be charged with making disciplinary recommendations for cops based on the results of those investigations.

In September, protesters descended on City Hall, calling for changes to public policy, rather than the prayers and condolences that are typically offered when police kill civilians.

"It's been almost half-a-century since an officer in the city of Dallas was convicted of the brutalization and murder of a Dallas citizen," Rev. Michael Waters said, referencing the death of Santos Rodriguez in 1973. "I know that during the course of more than 50 years, we cannot say certainly that, in each one of these cases, the officer was not guilty of the crime. It is time. It is important for this review board to be put in place, not just for today, but for the promise of tomorrow."

Dallas' current police review board has no real power, serving only in an advisory capacity to the Dallas Police Department and the City Council. Waters and other activists called for the board to be given subpoena power, so that it could carry out independent investigations.

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Later in September, Dallas police Chief U. Renee Hall said that she was open to strengthening the board and meetings were taking place to determine the best way forward.

"I'm excited about it. It is something that's long overdue. It's something that cities who have confronted more forcefully the need to have frank and open dialogue in community and police have utilized this tool in a much better way," Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston, a strong supporter of police reform, told the Observer. "Dallas' existing Civilian Police Review Board was a cynical exercise in creating something that could be held up as an accountability tool, but because of its structural makeup was never an effective tool for accountability."

In addition to strengthening the oversight board, DPD has also started a new complaint process, which allows residents to submit complaints against officers online through the department's website. The department is also developing an early warning system for cops "that allows supervisors to monitor, report and archive officer actions and improve accountability."

The city will hold town hall meetings to answer questions about the new policies from Dec. 12 through Jan. 31, 2019, before briefing the City Council's Public Safety Committee on Feb. 11. A final council vote on the changes to the review board is expected sometime in February or March. 

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