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DeKalb mayoral candidates talk criminal justice reform during virtual forum

DeKALB – The two candidates for DeKalb mayor outlined how they would hold police officers accountable for wrongdoing and work with the community to ensure a fair justice system, among other things, during a virtual forum this week hosted by a local group that addresses ways to prevent recidivism in the community.

Cohen Barnes, owner of Sundog IT and previous DeKalb School District 428 board member, said he is aware the DeKalb Police Department has a disciplinary process in place for officer misconduct, which includes an internal review process that can escalate from there if need be. If the officer does not report something that he saw to the supervisor but it comes up as new information later, he said, the officer could have disciplinary action brought against them.

Barnes said it also was his understanding the two finalists for police chief said the City is far ahead of many other communities when it comes to processes and procedures in place.

“There’s a lot of that actually in place of the police department,” Barnes said. “But there’s room for improvement for sure.”

DeKalb First Ward Alderwoman Carolyn Morris said she remains committed to following the list of demands city human rights commission members created following civil rights protests condemning Minnesota man George Floyd’s death in police custody in the summer of 2020. She said those demands included more extensive vetting of prospective officers, not hiring people with excessive force records and getting rid of any clauses about deleting records after three years in the police union collective bargaining agreement, which will be up for negotiation during the next mayoral term.

“What I would do is I would begin by reaching out to the chief and saying, ‘Hey, Chief, let me know which of these are in place. Show me exactly where they’re in place, so that I can verify,’” Morris said, referring to soon-to-be DeKalb Police Chief David Byrd. “And then if they are in place, then we’re good. If they’re not in place, then moving forward, we’re going to make sure we get this in the contract.”

The virtual candidates forum related to criminal justice reform on Monday was hosted virtually by Sir Donald Foundation, a local nonprofit that focuses on helping issues that could lead to recidivism. Full video of the nearly two-hour forum that was streamed live is currently not available on the organization’s social media page following the meeting getting hacked with unrelated video clips and an unknown person yelling over the candidates.

Both candidates also said they would be in favor of a citizen’s review board for the City of DeKalb. They also voiced their support for minority representation in City committees and other positions of leadership.

Morris said she would be in support of a police department audit if Byrd requested it, even if it costs about $100,000.

“I would support making sure that we find the funds to make that happen if it’s deemed necessary by the police chief,” Morris said. “But more so if it’s deemed necessary by the community, then I would insist and demand and ensure that the police chief sees that carried out to fruition.”

Both candidates said the previous year has been one of growth when it comes to better understanding racism-related issues. They both expressed their desires to be stronger advocates for their constituents affected by the criminal justice system, should they be elected, though Barnes said he admits his advocacy track record is “minimal at best” up to this point.

Regardless, Barnes said, he promises to take the time and energy to solicit more diversity in City commissions and make sure those voices are heard in decision-making.

“That will be how I’ll start moving us forward when it comes to social justice,” Barnes said.

Morris said she commits to giving a status update on each of the human relations committee demands.

“Because I think it’s really frustrating as a community to make demands and have expectations of your elected officials and then not know where they’re at,” Morris said.