DeKALB – DeKalb city officials say they’re trying to take a more personal and hands-on approach to police recruiting after a year unlike any other in the department’s annual reports.
DeKalb Police Chief David Byrd said during the City Council meeting Monday that diversity in the department was an area of extreme importance to him from the beginning. After interviewing 50 candidates in past weeks, he said the department landed with what he called ten “amazing” candidates. Among the ten are three women, three Black people, two Hispanic people and five white people.
“When I walk into a roll call room, I want to see a picture of humanity,” Byrd said. “That’s what I want to see. So everyone is represented and I think we’re on our way to doing that.”
Byrd said the department took an “aggressive” approach to recruitment this time around. He said he had each of the ten candidates take a day to “walk the beat” with him to better familiarize themselves with the DeKalb community.
“But I think at the end of the day, for each one of them before they left after that shadow day, they were extremely impressed with what we did at the DeKalb Police Department,” Byrd said. “They couldn’t believe that we were putting so much emphasis on them. And I think that that was important.”
DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas said 2020 was an anomaly of a year, considering the COVID-19 pandemic and the social justice movement that surfaced after Minnesota officer Derek Chauvin was charged and convicted in connection with George Floyd, a Black man, when he pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck that summer. Nicklas said that movement “demanded our attention” when it came to the city’s law enforcement operations.
“We gave our attention to it,” Nicklas said. “And it affected the police department in a number of ways – including changes in procedures, accountability and transparency but also support to those who wished to express themselves marching and so forth and do so peacefully.”
Nicklas said the 2020 police department’s annual report touched on those changes the department made, which included creating an agreement with Northwestern Medicine Ben Gordon Center in July 2020 to have a social worker available to follow up on mental health calls after police determine that a situation presents no clear and present danger to the public.
The report also mentioned a complete department restructuring set to divide the department’s operations into three separate divisions with an eye to community-led service. Officers using body-worn cameras and the program being approved also was highlighted in the report.
The proposed changes to the department’s structure came in response to months of daily marches and local calls for police reform led by activists and the local Black Lives Matter chapter in the previous year, said city officials.
Nicklas said the annual report also touched on the department’s more traditional concerns.
According to the annual report, Part I crimes – which include murder, sexual assault, arson and aggravated battery or assault – increased by 4% overall in the city. Although the number of reported homicides went up 300% in the previous year, with four in 2020 and one in 2019, burglary declined by 40% and criminal sexual assaults decreased by 15% from the previous year.
DeKalb officers also underwent a total of about 3,800 hours of additional training, including training for de-escalation and cultural awareness, according to the report. Seventh Ward Alderman Tony Faivre said he was impressed by that number and credited then-acting Police Chief Bob Redel for putting that initiative into practice.
“And if I do my math right, that’s over 55 hours per officer,” Faivre said. “Just amazing, the amount of training that was undertaken this past year.”
Katie Finlon covers local government and breaking news for DeKalb County in Illinois. She has covered local government news for Shaw Media since 2018 and has had bylines in Daily Chronicle, Kendall County Record newspapers, Northwest Herald and in public radio over the years.