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Local

DeKalb Police Department to be restructured: policy reform, other changes coming to the department

Structural reform coming to DeKalb policing amid calls for justice

Hundreds of peaceful protesters link arms and chant in front of the DeKalb Police Station on May 31. The protest was held in response to the killing of George Floyd while in the custody of a Minneapolis police officer earlier this week.
Hundreds of peaceful protesters link arms and chant in front of the DeKalb Police Station on May 31. The protest was held in response to the killing of George Floyd while in the custody of a Minneapolis police officer earlier this week.

DeKALB – After more than a month of community meetings, marches and protests with significant calls for police reform, changes are coming to the DeKalb Police Department.

Many of them already have been implemented and don’t require City Council approval, according to city documents released Thursday evening. The changes include a restructuring of the police department to designate all operations under two categories – community services and violence prevention – and require negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 115 union and budget revisions, documents show.

City Manager Bill Nicklas said the changes were enacted following conversations over the past few weeks with acting Police Chief Bob Redel, police department command staff and the DeKalb police union, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 115.

Police reform will be the topic of Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting with the City Council, set for 5 p.m. in the Yusunas Room in the basement of the DeKalb Public Library, 309 Oak St. If you cannot attend in person, you may watch it live on Channel 14 or the city’s YouTube page.

Council is set to vote on two reform items Monday: to station a licensed social worker from the Northwestern Medicine Ben Gordon Center for 30 hours a week at the department to respond to 911 calls; and a resolution to adopt a number of shared principles, such as value of life statements that were created jointly by the DeKalb Police Department, the Illinois NAACP and the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.

Department restructure

The department currently is divided under operations, patrol and community divisions, Nicklas said. He said details still need to be worked out.

“My objective is, and this is not a token thing, these will be the two major divisions in the department,” Nicklas said. “Their objective during the day is going to be focused on programmatic things, developed with social services. We’ll still have investigations –they’re going to have to remain as they are. We’ll still have commanders.”

The department’s personnel will then be assigned to a certain division and go about their daily patrols or duties with the division’s mission in mind, he said.

Nicklas said the department already has strong relationships with area social services agencies such as Safe Passage, Hope Haven homeless shelter, the Northwestern Medicine Ben Gordon Center and the Family Service Agency of DeKalb County. He said he recently discovered that Acting Police Chief Bob Redel had asked all patrol officers to interact with community members out of a squad car and be involved in the community.

“He’d asked everybody on the shift every day, whenever possible, to get out of your cars, do something that’s meaningful, not token, do something so people can see you’re human and that you’re here to help.”

Use of force, discipline changes

Use of force standards in the department’s policies have also been updated to prohibit any conduct by officers described as “lateral vascular technique” or “any type of forcible neck restraint,” along with any restraint technique that would impair breathing or restrict blood flow to the brain, documents show.

Nearly a year ago, DeKalb Police Sgt. Jeffrey Weese was seen on video arresting Elonte McDowell, a Black man, using what a police forensic doctor described as a chokehold.The arrest gained national attention as McDowell yelled, “I can’t breathe.” Weese was placed on desk duty pending an investigation by the Illinois State Police, which later included a DeKalb County grand jury who declined to press criminal charges against Weese. In February, after an internal investigation by the DeKalb police department, Weese was placed on unpaid suspension for up to 30 days, ordered to undergo cultural competency training and prohibited from being promoted for a year.

The department’s standards of conduct also now requires officers’ duties to include a “duty to intervene,” documents show, spurred by protesters’ calls after the death of George Floyd. The 46-year-old’s death was captured on video that showed Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer, kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, even after Floyd had passed out. Chauvin was later fired, arrested and charged with murder. The video also showed three other officers – Thomas Lane, J Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao – watching the scene unfold and taking no physical action to stop Chauvin. The three were later fired and arrested also, and face charges of aiding and abetting murder.

He said internal changes within the police department’s policies come with an added layer of accountability within the department’s own reputation and referenced the adage, “Character is doing the right thing when no one’s looking.”

“The police department has always had a code of ethics, but what we’re saying is that you are more than any time in the past subject to public scrutiny for what you do,” he said. “So the department and its reputation are at risk, not just as an individual, for things that are not in accordance with the standards of conduct.”

Nicklas is also proposing the City Council use funds expected from the sale of the DeKalb Municipal building, which was City Hall until June, and use it to equip all officers with body cameras for the first time.

The department is currently piloting a body-worn camera program to test a variety of camera models. The program is expected to cost the city about $150,000 annually for the technology and storage capabilities. A request for proposals for developers to purchase, demolish and build something else on the land at 200 S. Fourth St. is due July 20, with council action expected on the results in August, documents show.

Record keeping

A number of changes to recordkeeping and officer accountability have already been implemented as well, including publishing any and all disciplinary records and action taken after a violation of the department’s code of standards on the city’s website, regardless of severity of offense, Nicklas said.

Records that are four years old are barred from being posted however, per state law, documents show, unless court action compels it.

As of June 18, records showing disciplinary action in the DeKalb Police Department cannot be expunged.

The department will also bar no-knock warrants, although DeKalb County State’s Attorney Rick Amato said no such warrants have been issued by his office for decades.

“I’m not aware of any DeKalb County no-knock warrant in probably 20 years,” Amato said. “I’ve researched it, because my time goes back 17 years in our court system.”

Calls to ban no-knock warrants were spurred by the death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who worked as an emergency medical technician, and was shot eight times, fatally, inside her apartment after Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison and Myles Cosgrove, police officers in the Louisville Metro Police Department in Louisville, Kentucky, entered serving a “no-knock” warrant and did not announce themselves as law enforcement officers before opening fire in the home.

“If another law enforcement agency (FBI, Illinois State Police) seeks assistance in serving such a warrant, such assistance will only be provided if, in the opinion of the State’s Attorney and DeKalb Police Chief, there is an imminent threat to life,” documents read.

Hiring

For hiring practices, moving forward the city’s Police and Fire Commission – which has authority to make all final hiring decisions for police officers and is made up of non-elected, mayoral-appointed community members – will review its procedures to ensure no candidates are hired for the DeKalb department who have a record of use-of-force violations in past police work, documents show.

Effective July 1, citywide hiring committees underwent revisions to prioritize the inclusions of people of color, documents show, which will impact the hiring for the permanent DeKalb Police Chief position and the assistant city manager position, both vacated in June. Interim Police Chief John Petragallo held the role for a year and decided not to pursue the role full time, retiring from the department June 2.

Nicklas, who in past has said the chief hiring process was placed on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, said listening to residents’ concerns over the past month has him rethinking the role.

“Sometime in the not-too-distant future I’d like to create a revised profile for the chief we want and then set up a panel and start over,” Nicklas said. “We have had a search and there are some out there that are still looking to press their own experience for this job, we’ve told them all we don’t have a timeline now, don’t know what’s going to happen, so we’ll probably get a few more, more diverse response.”

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