Dallas police chief proposing police oversight changes

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For several months, there has been a push for more oversight of Dallas police and accountability for police misconduct.

The Botham Jean shooting death last September brought new attention to Dallas’ citizen review board and how much power it should have.

Dallas Police Chief Rene Hall got to make her case before the city council about changes she wants for the Citizens Police Review Board.

She presented a plan that has support from a majority of the city council.

Chief Hall has said her focus is not on giving the board more power, but on building a relationship between her department and the community.

Wednesday marked a dramatic change from the original plan for a new police oversight board.

Civil rights activists and the Dallas Police Association opposed the previous plan, but sides that never seem to agree did agree that this new board will be a good thing.

Dallas’ citizen review board investigates cases of alleged officer misconduct. It has come under scrutiny over the past few months with protestors demanding more police oversight, especially in cases of excessive force or officer-involved shootings.

The loud call for better citizen oversight of the Dallas Police Department began after Botham Jean was shot and killed in his own apartment by Dallas PD Officer Amber Guyger, who said she mistook his apartment for her own.

DPD handled the initial investigation, and faced complaints from activists who questioned why she was not immediately arrested and charged.

"The process is not broken," Dallas resident Marvin Earle said. "People hired to work and take a solemn oath are broken. We are asking you to help us find who they are, help us put them in jail, because if you do not, the protests will continue." 

The current citizens review board has no oversight of critical incidents, like officer-involved shootings.

Under the new proposal, the city would create what’s called the Office of Police Oversight, or OPO.

The director would be hired by the city manager, with input from both the Dallas Police Association and the chair of the civilian oversight board.

The OPO director would then be allowed to watch detectives interview police officers who are under investigation.

The board would be able to subpoena witnesses, but not any officers involved in an investigation.

The director, who would have a background in law enforcement, could then make suggestions to the police investigators.

The community police oversight board would be briefed at the end of the investigation, and could weigh in if there is believed to be any policy violations.

Ultimately, the police chief would continue to hold the power to discipline or fire an officer.

Chief Hall said the proposed board would not usurp her authority or interfere with investigations and that she is comfortable with it.

“The men and women that work every day to try to keep us safe are really special human beings. And they are so special that I even think they will get better with this,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said.

Dallas City Councilman Kevin Felder, who himself is facing a felony charge from police, questioned if the OPO director would receive any protection against police retaliation.

"If we hire someone and they don't have the power to do what they need to do, and the protection to speak out, then you've done nothing," Felder said.

The majority of city council members and Mayor Rawlings supported the plan.

"This is an issue we can't hide from. [It] has forever been tormenting not only Dallas, but cities across America. For us to have courage to step up, in a better place for that," Rawlings added.

Even Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata said he supports the creation of the Community Police Oversight Board as it is proposed. He has been critical of previous proposals but said the current plan provides transparency while safeguarding investigations.

The annual budget is up to $500,000.

Council members will consider an ordinance on April 24.