DeKALB – A scheduled vote to approve the creation of DeKalb’s citizens’ police review board was tabled Monday amid calls from the regional police union to bargain and locals asking for safeguards for residents who might file a complaint against police and then have to speak publicly about it.
The DeKalb City Council voted, 7-0, to table the vote to a future meeting. Fifth Ward Alderman Scott McAdams was absent.
First Ward Alderwoman Carolyn Morris said she commended those who spoke during public comment.
“It took a lot of vulnerability and courage in many ways,” Morris said. “And that valuable feedback helps us and helps guide us to make the wisest decisions that we can.”
During the meeting, several residents came forward asking the council to amend previous drafts of the review board’s creation and allow for the use of anonymous complaints made against officers. The ask was due to several, including DeKalb City Clerk Sasha Cohen, who came forward saying they were survivors of sexual violence and should be allowed to make anonymous complaints for safety reasons.
One woman, who the Daily Chronicle has agreed to not identify by name though she gave public comment during the meeting, asked that her name be stricken from city meeting minutes due to the sensitive nature of her allegations.
Visibly distressed, the woman recounted an incident she said happened a decade ago when she said an officer, not in DeKalb County, pulled her over and made her walk to and from her car because “he wanted to see me from behind.” She said she did not ever come forward with her allegations publicly.
She told aldermen she wanted to come forward with her comments “to present an example of a story that you might have to hear,” should the review board, meant to scrutinize officer actions including potential allegations of police misconduct, move forward.
“That abuse of power [...] I just don’t think it’s fine,” the woman said, her voice breaking. “I think that a complaint like this is something that should not have to be made publicly.”
It’s a concern that was voiced at the last council meeting, that some, including Cohen, felt there should be allowances in the review’s boards policies to make way for anonymous complaints, or avenues to assure identifies of those who may have suffered at the hands of officers, are protected.
As it stands now, the proposed board would hold informal hearings related to citizen complaints in public session, meaning anyone would have access to those meetings. The current draft of the board’s policy includes stipulation that the board only review signed and written complaints, not anonymous ones, since it “will publicly bear on a police officer’s career and professional standing,” city documents state.
Aldermen previously voiced concerns related to the U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment, which provides anyone accused of a crime the right to know who their accusers are and the nature of the accusations. Nicklas said that’s the main argument as to why complaints made to the board could not be filed anonymously.
However, Nicklas also said he realized as he listened to the public comments during Monday’s meeting the ordinance needed to better address concerns related to sexual assault survivors and keeping their identities confidential when bringing a complaint to the board.
“So it’s important, I think, tonight for us to take a breath, take the next couple of weeks between now and the next regular meeting and read the ordinance and reread it,” Nicklas said. “And if there are questions, I welcome those.”
Cohen – who in August said he considers himself a “police abolitionist” and believes that “all cops are bad” – spoke during public comment Monday outside of his clerk capacity. He said he is a survivor of rape and proceeded to detail his assault. He said it happened when he was 16 years old and not publicly out as bisexual.
“I didn’t want to it. I hate reliving this. It’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” Cohen said. “And I wanted you to look at me and I want you to see how painful this has been, just to share this story.”
More than a year after a countrywide social justice movement was spurred by the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the creation of a citizens’ review board was first greenlit in August, spurred by local Black Lives Matter activists issuing a list of demands following Floyd’s death in the summer of 2020 to help with police accountability. The board’s inception was also born from lengthy discussions, including but not limited to ones had through the city’s Human Relations Commission.
FOP bargain ask
The Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council, the regional arm of the local police union, also sent a “demand to bargain” request to the city of DeKalb dated Sept. 10, saying it’s related to work conditions for police and they wanted to talk with city officials before the board’s creation. Nicklas confirmed city and union officials have met to discuss the matter once already.
“And it’ll probably happen again,” Nicklas said. “Hopefully sometime next week.”
DeKalb Police Chief David Byrd previously said he supports the creation of the review board and the “checks and balances” it would give for police and City Council. Byrd was absent from the Monday meeting.
How it works
According to city documents, the review board “shall have access to all materials and evidence pertinent to a particular case.” That would include but is not limited to police dashboard camera footage, police body camera footage, footage from cameras on site or near the location where a particular incident occurred, forensic reports, police case files and written or recorded witness accounts.
The board, comprised of five citizen members appointed by the DeKalb mayor and approved by the City Council, will hold at least six public meetings per year, be subject to the Illinois Open Meetings Act, and will not have policy-making power like the council.
All board members would be DeKalb residents and serve either two-year or one-year terms.
The review board will be tasked with deliberating over claims that an officer violated the DeKalb Police Department’s “use of force” policies and will then recommend steps for disciplinary action if necessary, or changes to the department’s training or other relevant procedures.
It will be the police chief’s final say whether disciplinary actions are imposed, documents state.
The chief’s findings, the board recommendation and the details surrounding any disciplinary action would then become part of the city’s public records, retained under and subject to exemptions under the Illinois Local Records Act and the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. The city’s police chief would be required to consult with the board once an internal investigation is complete and before making disciplinary recommendations.