Something lost in the shuffle of last night’s Community Police Oversight Board meeting: the city has yet to staff the crucial Office of Community Police Oversight. Those are the three paid employees who will sort through complaints about the police department, bring findings to the board, and keep tabs in real-time as Dallas PD investigates itself.
Assistant City Manager Jon Fortune says the monitor—who will serve as director of the office and hire its other two employees—could be in place in January, if all goes right. Although the ultimate decision to hire will fall to City Manager T.C. Broadnax and CPOB Chair Jesuorobo Enobakhare, the finalists will go before three separate panels of five community members each.
So far, 70 people have applied. Enobakhare says the position has been “a little slow” to attract qualified candidates. They’re now moving toward selecting finalists.
Without staff in place, however, police oversight sits in a precarious spot. Complaints aren’t filtering to the board, so there have been no cases to discuss. It voted on Tuesday to put the case of Diamond Ross—the woman who overdosed and died while in police custody—on next month’s agenda. That didn’t keep board members from a stream of questions about their apparent inaction.
April’s oversight ordinance made it easier for the public to submit complaints about officers. But on Tuesday, nobody seemed to know exactly what was currently happening with those complaints. Activists who pushed for the change say they are seeing their complaints fall into a familiar black hole.
Assistant City Manager Jon Fortune says the police department’s Internal Affairs division will continue handling complaints against officers. When the city hires a monitor, it’ll be that person’s job to oversee the investigations and provide input when warranted.
Until then, the investigations will start without oversight, Fortune says. He didn’t know exactly how many complaints have come in since the oversight board was assembled. He estimated around a dozen. What happens if these investigations conclude before the city hires a monitor? Would those be subject to oversight by the third-party? It’s not clear.
In a perfect, fully staffed world, the monitor presents during the same meeting as the department’s Internal Affairs investigators. The monitor gives its thoughts on the department’s findings, including commentary on the punishment, if it was recommended. The board can agree with this, disagree, or choose to do nothing. The board’s recommendation then goes to the police chief for a final decision. This whole process plays out in public, allowing all to see any differences in discovery between the monitor and the police department.
Currently, the opinion of that oversight body—as well as the accountability the monitor provides during the investigation—is missing. But even within the current makeshift process, there’s one exception to the rule: activist Davante Peters submitted a complaint against Chief U. Reneé Hall over her actions at the first oversight board meeting. Hall ordered an extraction team to clear the room after tempers flared when the meeting closed without public comment. Peters asked for Hall to be recused from the investigation of his complaint. So the city routed it to Dallas Fire-Rescue.
“We found another independent body which conducts investigations on their employees as well to start that investigation,” Fortune told the board. “It can be held open and kept in progress until we have a monitor in place, and we can continue to have a complete review and present it to this board at that time.”
Fortune is asking for patience in the meantime. He won’t get much of it from the family of Ross, who died in police custody from an overdose in April 2018. Ross’ cousin, Obra Henry, pleaded with the board on Tuesday to not make this a “dog-and-pony show.”
“Do something about it,” Henry said.