DeKalb Police Chief, local activists react to civilian police review board

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Northern Star file photo

The DeKalb City Council considered adding a Civilian Police Review Board.

Greg Gancarz, News Reporter

DeKALB – Both local activists and the DeKalb chief of police say the future adoption of a citizen police review board is a win for the City of DeKalb.

Plans for implementing a review board started in August after City Council members voted to create an ordinance for an official vote to approve or deny any proposed plans that come before the council. Chief of Police David Byrd said progress is now being made, but the project is still very much in its infancy with a very fluid timeline moving forward.

“We’ll build a good, solid draft about what it would look like and then start to build out each piece,” Byrd said. 

In current proposals, the board is expected to serve in a purely advisory third-party role, reviewing all evidence available in cases of civilian complaints against the police department. In cases in which the board disagrees with the conclusions drawn by the department’s own internal investigations of complaints, the cases will go before the chief of police, who will have the final say.

“​​Over a year, if the Chief concurs with the review board 38 times out of 40 times, to me that’s a pretty good average, and at the end of the day, if the two that they don’t agree on still need to be reviewed by the City Manager, that’s fine,” Byrd said. “I could see things being built out even further where the City Manager can then review the chief’s decision.”

In cases of conflict, the members of the board can be voted out of their term. If the conflict stems from the police chief, citizens can bring up their concerns at the following City Council meeting, City Manager Bill Nicklas said in a Sept. 8 Northern Star article.

“I believe there should be an entity that holds the police and everyone involved accountable,” said NAACP President Devlin Collins. “…It sounds like if the board is in conflict with the police, then the board will get voted off, but if it’s the other way around it, doesn’t sound like there’s any consequence for the police chief.”

Joe Mitchell, a local activist and pastor at New Hope Baptist Church, had been calling for the implementation of a civilian review board ever since the arrest of Elonte McDowell in 2019, where former DeKalb Sgt. Jeffery Weese was shown in a video putting McDowell in a headlock during the arrest after McDowell resisted and attempted to flee.  Mitchell said after reviewing the most recent proposals regarding the board, he was very optimistic.

“It looks like this is going to pan out to what we wanted it to be,” Mitchell said. “But, just like with anything else, the proof is in the pudding and we won’t know until this has been put in place and implemented. I think it’s a great first step, and we’ll wait for an opportunity for it to be implemented, and we’ll see how effective it is.”

Byrd said he expects the most difficult aspect of the process will be finding individuals to serve on the five-person board. The positions will be unpaid, and placement on the board will mean the completion of what Byrd hopes is 40 hours of training in police procedures in addition to 20 hours of ride-along time with police officers as they carry out their day-to-day duties.

“You have to find someone who is pretty dedicated, but the biggest component of it would be finding someone who is impartial and who could continue to be that way as they deal with these police matters that they are not accustomed to, which is why that training is important,” Byrd said.

Byrd said the training will never truly put the board members in the shoes of police officers who have to face life-threatening situations, but said that it would still give an important perspective to board members when it comes to seeing things through the lens of law enforcement.

Byrd said he personally knows that the department has no real need for a third-party review body but realized the benefit it would serve in terms of credibility with the public when it came to transparency and departmental integrity.

“I know personally that those girls and guys downstairs are doing exactly what they should for the public, risking their lives every day, and they get treated like crap the majority of the time,” Byrd said. “I can remember one night, I was called the n-word at one traffic stop, and probably 30 minutes later, I made another stop and was called an Uncle Tom. It’s part of our job, and I get that, but at the end of the day, nobody wants to show up to work to get treated like crap. But we need to absorb it, and we do our best.”