Dallas citizen police review board asks for more authority

A police review board that is now largely symbolic in Dallas is asking for more power to properly do its job.

The debate over how much power should be granted to the Citizens Police Review Board is heating up at Dallas City Hall. Protesters who demanded accountability after the Botham Jean shooting are leading the call for expanded authority.

Currently, the review board is set up to investigate cases of alleged officer misconduct in the Dallas Police Department. Chairman Dr. Brian Williams and other supporters want the power to subpoena officers, as well as have independent investigators working alongside police internal affairs personnel.

But on Monday, the organizer of the Dallas Community Police Oversight Coalition felt shut out of the process.

“This was a community driving process,” said organizer Changa Higgins. “To not have a seat at the table to speak is shameful in this process.”

Higgins said the police chief's recommendations keep the board weak when it comes to reviewing incidents like officer-involved shootings.

“The ability for the new board to have investigative discovery power over critical incidents.  Officer involved shootings, excessive force, and high-level things that could affect public trust,” Higgins said.

“I can't focus on power. I'm focused on building a relationship between the Dallas Police Department and community that allows us to be transparent,” Chief Rene Hall said. “This process allows the board to monitor investigations sit in, listen to officers give testimony on administrative incidents, recommend questions to be asked of those officers. I don't know how you get any closer to an investigation than that.”

Williams urged council members to not allow disagreement to turn into more delays.

“To do nothing at this time is absolutely unacceptable because right now is a chance where we have relative calm to do something that nowhere else in the country is being done,” he said. “And they will look to us and say in 2019 or 2020 that Dallas did this. Why can't we?”

Critics have expressed concerns that the review board lacks the support staff, budget and training to handle expanded powers. The Dallas Police Association believes officers already have enough oversight.

An ordinance to create changes to the Citizens Police Review Board is expected to go before the full Dallas City Council on March 20. But after Monday’s discord over how to change the board, it's not clear what that ordinance will look like.