Human Relations Commission discusses reorganization of police department

Kierra Frazier, Managing Editor

DeKALB – The organizational structure of the DeKalb Police Department could change after City Manager Bill Nicklas presented a draft of the FY21 city budget at Tuesday’s Human Relations Commission meeting. 

The new organizational structure includes doubling the community support services division with its existing patrol and investigations divisions. 

Three social workers, two crisis intervention officers, a crime free housing coordinator and three community service officers are all included as part of the community support services division in the proposed budget, according to a draft of the FY21 budget.

The proposed budget is anticipated to be released later this week prior to the City Council and Financial Advisory Committee meeting on Monday. The HRC doesn’t approve the budget, City Council members do.

Nicklas said the new model for police department structure comes from research the city has pulled together from other police departments in Illinois. 

“I wish I could say we could do more this year, but there’s two reasons why we’re not,” Nicklas said. “One is, frankly, [COVID-19] has knocked us flat fiscally where we were down four and a half million for the year based on what I’ve presented to the council over the last month.” 

Calls for police reform have intensified amid the Black Lives Matter protests from over the summer after George Floyd died in police custody. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pinned his knee to Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes. 

In July, it was announced that the police department was to adopt policy reforms and the implementation of a social worker was one of them. 

Nicklas said in the past, the police department had a social services branch where officers would help with parking lot patrol and assist with those who have been locked out of their cars or homes. Nicklas said it was time to take more than baby steps. 

 Joe Gastiger, commission member of the HRC, said the addition of social workers will help direct police officers’ time towards more crime related situations happening in the community. 

“I think to rely upon professionally trained people to deal with people who are having a tough time is just an excellent first step,” Gastiger said.

Nicklas said the restructuring of the police department staff is just one of the changes the city is looking to make in terms of police reform. Nicklas said down the road, the search for a permanent police chief will happen, along with the implementation of a critical incident review board. 

“We all have ideas for how this might work, but we haven’t had the shared experience of how this might work, so we have to find that,” Nicklas said. “We’re doing it in a bubble, everybody’s watching, and we’ll have lots of help and I’m fine with that.”