When Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall rolled out her first draft of potential changes to Dallas' Citizens Police Review Board last month, she took heat from all sides. Supporters of reforming the board felt that Hall's changes didn't go far enough, while opponents of the reforms worried that strengthening civilian oversight of the city's cops would keep the department from achieving its other goals, like increased crime prevention and officer retention.
Things went much better for the chief Wednesday at Dallas City Hall.
"We recognize that every individual in the city of Dallas does not have the same interaction with police," Hall told the City Council. "We recognize that there is a need in certain areas of our community for us to continue to build on what we believe is the essence of law enforcement and that is community engagement."
In its unimproved form, Dallas' review board has little real power. It can recommend discipline for officers, but otherwise has little access to the department's internal investigations. Under Hall's proposal, which has strong backing from the City Council, community advocacy groups and the Dallas Police Association, the board would play a larger role in officer investigations.
While the new policies wouldn't give the board the power to subpoena police officers, something police reform activists have long sought, a new three-member team called the Office of Community Police Oversight would be hired to work out of the city manager's office. The director of the team would have the power to monitor the department's internal investigations, including the ability to watch internal affairs division interviews of officers under investigation from a separate room.
When a department administrative investigation into an officer concludes, the team's director would then have the opportunity to interview involved police officers and department employees. Officers being interviewed by the Office of Community Police Oversight would be given the same warning — that they are not legally required to answer questions but their not doing so could be considered evidence in the administrative investigation into their actions — that police personnel are currently given during internal affairs division investigations.
Hall, who would retain the final say in all department discipline under the new structure, would also be required to give the board a written report at the conclusion of any officer investigation.
"This is about trust," council member Casey Thomas said. "Historically, in communities of color in the city of Dallas, there has been a lack of trust between residents and the police department. This is an effort to establish that. Those who don't feel that we need a police review board, much less an oversight board, please be mindful of the fact that there are individuals who don't feel the same level of comfort in their community."
Council member Philip Kingston, who blasted Hall's February proposal, was much happier this time around.
"This presentation compared to the last time we saw it at public safety and criminal justice is substantially improved," Kingston said. "I'm pretty impressed ... I think that (the coalition of community groups that have helped draft the regulations for the new board and the Dallas Police Association) deserve a lot of credit."
Association president Mike Mata, who told the Observer in January that granting the board subpoena power over officers would only lead to the officer being investigated repeatedly asserting their Fifth Amendment rights, said Wednesday that giving an independent director the power to observe interviews and submit questions to police investigators struck the right balance between integrity and protecting officers' due process rights.
"Do I think it's perfect, no, I don't think it's perfect, but I think it's a move in a direction that's needed for the city of Dallas," Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata said. "I think it does what I needed it to do and that was to be transparent to the citizens of Dallas but also safeguard the integrity of the investigations of the Dallas Police Department ... and the men and women that wear that badge every day."
The City Council will take a vote on final approval for the new board structure on April 24.
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