DeKALB – Although a final vote to create a citizens’ review board for the DeKalb Police Department was again halted this week, police officials said the proposed body will “add an extra layer” to how the department vets complaints against officers.
DeKalb Police Cmdr. Jason Leverton said he doesn’t believe the proposed review board, should it be approved, would affect the disciplinary system already in place.
“The review board would be an extra layer,” Leverton said. “So it wouldn’t be just us doing that review. ... It’s more of a confirmation. Just to make sure we didn’t miss something.”
How it works now
The DeKalb Police Department currently has an online portal where residents can file complaints against police electronically, Leverton said. From there, the complaints are reviewed by command staff, starting with the officer’s direct supervisor and the police commander reviewing the direct supervisor’s recommendation.
“And that’s where that sustained or unsustained [determination] comes in,” Leverton said.
When someone files a complaint against an officer, DeKalb police administration utilize squad car dashboard camera or body-worn camera footage to assess the incident, and determine a complaint’s validity.
According to documents obtained by the Daily Chronicle through the Freedom of Information Act, that validity is based on whether those tasked with reviewing the footage can corroborate an allegation using available footage. Allegations might be made regarding an officers’ overall professionalism, conduct or use of force while interacting with people.
According to the city of DeKalb’s website, there have been two complaints filed against two separate city police officers this year – neither of which were substantiated by police administration, according to city documents.
There have been no complaints related to use of force by police this year as of 5:15 p.m. Tuesday. In August, an officer was placed on desk duty for firing their gun during an incident in the 900 block of Spiros Court.
By comparison, there was only one filed complaint against an officer in 2020. The complaint was not use of force related and was determined to be unfounded by police administration, according to city documents.
In 2019, there were 12 filed complaints against DeKalb police that the department’s administration later found to be unsubstantiated, according to city documents. However, there was one recorded use of force incident that was substantiated in 2019, which involved former DeKalb Police Sgt. Jeffrey Weese, who was involved in the controversial arrest of an Aurora man and later resigned from the department in November 2020. The arrest gained nationwide attention after Weese was seen putting his arm around the man’s neck in what a police forensic doctor later described as “a chokehold” during an Illinois State Police investigation.
Leverton said the department “has been very blessed” to not have continued issues of use of force incidents. He said he believes the situation with Weese was the only incident of its kind in his 25 years at the department that he can recall.
“Which, first of all, on one hand, is not acceptable. It should not happen,” Leverton said. “But to have just one is a pretty good benchmark of any department of any size.”
Union’s role in departmental discipline
The update comes after a scheduled vote to approve the creation of DeKalb’s citizens’ police review board was again tabled Monday.
The DeKalb City Council voted unanimously to table the vote to a future meeting at the request of DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas. He said Monday the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council – the regional arm of the local police union – sent a “demand to bargain” request Sept. 10 to the city of DeKalb.
Nicklas said the union’s request is related to work conditions for police and regional leadership wanted to talk with city officials before the board’s creation.
Leverton said he was under the impression the regional call to bargain was more of a formality to get policies and protocol into writing. He said is in favor of the review board.
“And I think most officers are,” Leverton said.
During current disciplinary complaint hearings, officers have a right to have a police union representative sit in the proceedings, Leverton said. However, he said the union doesn’t have the authority to oppose a disciplinary measure unless the ruling is a suspension which lasts more than three days.
For a one day suspension, mandated extra training or a set improvement plan, for example, Leverton said the union rarely gets involved because “it’s pretty straightforward.”
“But they don’t really have much of a say unless it’s something that’s more substantial,” Leverton said.
Leverton said a three-day suspension could be the consequence of a number of disciplinary transgression, including recurring offenses which could be minor.
“Things that are more common for a suspension day” right off the bat “may be a little more severe,” Leverton said.
Leverton said an appropriate violation that could warrant suspension would be failure to properly investigate an incident, for example, or getting into a vehicle crash with a police car while on duty.
“We have pretty [clear] expectations on officers to follow up on cases, follow up on leads [and] attend to victim’s needs,” Leverton said.
More severe disciplinary action could come from a use of force complaint ruled valid, Leverton said.
Overall, Leverton said he’s looking forward to the details of the citizens’ police review board being ironed out.
“I think it could be a good oversight and review of how we’re investigating those type of cases,” Leverton said. Though the development of the board would be “incremental, I think this is a good starting point.”
Blueprint for proposed citizens’ police review board
As the DeKalb City Council grapples with formalizing the creation of the review board, calls from locals arose asking for an option to file complaints against officers anonymously.
Aldermen also voiced concerns in the past 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.
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.
The final draft of the review board’s policies has not been published by the city.
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.
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.