New DeKalb police chief aims to build trust with community

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Patrick Murphy | Northern Star

David Byrd’s first day in the position was May 1, after serving for the Illinois State Police for 31-years when he retired in April. 

Elisa Reamer, Reporter

DeKALB David Byrd, DeKalb’s first Black Police Chief, has big goals as the city’s first permanent chief since 2019. Byrd plans to reconnect the community through taking outreach measures, which he hopes will decrease the divide between law enforcement and the community. 

Byrd’s first day in the position was May 1, after serving for the Illinois State Police for 31-years when he retired in April. 

Byrd will become the first permanent police chief since Gene Lowery retired after seven years in the position in 2019. After Lowery’s retirement, the DeKalb Police Department hired Interim Police Chief John Petragallo May 2019. Byrd will be taking over for Interim Police Chief Bob Redel, who was appointed May 2020.  

Byrd has wanted to be a police officer since he was five years old and grew up always leading by example by protecting his friends at parties while attending Lindblom Math and Science Academy in Chicago and Grambling State University in Louisiana. 

Byrd knew that law enforcement was in his future when his mom went to take him for professional pictures and refused to take a fake police badge off for the photos. 

“I was always policing my friends to make sure they wouldn’t get in trouble, especially when they would have too much to drink,” Byrd said. “I would always pull that coattail and say ‘you probably had enough or I’ll drive you guys home.’ I’ve always been the designated driver.”

David Byrd at his swearing in ceremony on May 3 at the DeKalb Police Department. (Kierra Frazier | Northern Star)

Since Byrd has been in the law enforcement industry for three decades, he has seen a lot of change, including the implementation of body cameras and computers installed in the police cars. 

Byrd’s main priority is to bring the DeKalb Police Department into the 21st century by using modern-day policing tactics. Byrd said he will do this by being more transparent and bringing the community together. 

“I walk around the community, and I have some really good conversations at the most non-traditional places like in parking lots of Walgreens and on the street,” Byrd said. 

Byrd said he has stopped into Roc’s Barbershop, 114 E Hillcrest Drive, to have a good barbershop chat, despite being bald. The conversations can be funny and serious that revolve around relevant conversations. 

Byrd finds it funny when he walks into stores such as Jewel Osco, 1320 Sycamore Road, just to buy water or toilet paper because everyone has to wonder what Byrd’s doing there because they think he is there for an official reason. 

People have to feel like your personality is a good fit for the city or department.”

— David Byrd

After not being offered the position for the Evanston Police Chief in 2018, Byrd said it was good to be selected for the position after the very long interview process for the DeKalb position. 

“I was prepared, and I think when you walk into a room, and you’re prepared, things flow a little bit easier for you,” Byrd said. “People have to feel like your personality is a good fit for the city or department.”

Byrd wishes that people will become more accepting of individuals, especially in a field such as law enforcement. Byrd said he doesn’t want people to be only tolerant of others because it indicates that you are just putting up with someone while acceptance shows that you recognize someone is different than you, but you accept that. 

“It should be diverse,” Byrd said. “I don’t think I can think of any profession that should not be. Professors and teachers should be extremely diverse. The same thing with plumbers, I don’t know any profession where we shouldn’t have some sense of diversity.” 

Most local police department employees are 72% caucasian, according to a 2013 Bureau of Justice Survey. Rural areas that have a lack of diversity can impact this issue also, Byrd said. 

“I think we just got to do better,” Byrd said. “We just have to make a conscious effort to be diverse, and everyone has representation at the table.”