Town hall on police relations and law enforcement reformBy MIKE McGEE
The Dallas Examiner
Despite the summer heat and the threat of COVID-19 pandemic, local individuals dedicated to law enforcement reform have continued to brave environmental threats – and, to some extent, societal disapproval – to march, write or stand up in other ways for racial justice and police accountability. With continual pressure, those voices are increasingly being heard by officials both appointed and elected.
One such response to demonstrators and protestors was the recent Telephone Town Hall on Police Relations and Law Enforcement Reform. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas District 30, hosted the June 30 call to address concerns regarding police relations and provide information on law enforcement reform legislation.
Johnson’s district is populated by a POC majority of 43.56% Black and 38.02% Hispanic residents, according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index, placing her constituents at the forefront of the current justice movement.
“Let me say that we have struggled in the House of Represeantives to pass a piece of legislation to try to address issues that we feel that we’ve been dealing with over the years,” the congresswoman voiced on H.R. 7120, also known as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020, that is now in the Senate.
“None of the legislation we passed in this package is new,” she confirmed. “So even after we have passed it in the House there’s really no guarantee that we’re going to get this package completely passed in the Senate and, third, signed by the president.”
Johnson insisted such situations at the national level gave heightened importance to hearing from district residents in regard to what could best be changed in area departments.
To that end, Black leaders throughout the county whom Johnson described as experts joined the conversation, including Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot, Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown, Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall and Dr. Kilynda V. Ray, licensed psychologist and treasurer of the DFW Association of Black Psychologists.
Creuzot stated that he had already begun reforming how his office handles certain cases.
“We have not criminalized poverty, homelessness and mental illness. We are looking for solutions, however, for a very needy population,” he affirmed.
Creuzot expressed how reform since he took office in 2019 included not prosecuting first-offence marijuana possession and fully staffing the Conviction Integrity Unit to assist those with claims of innocence. Also, potential civil rights violations are presented to county grand juries made up of private citizens rather than as inhouse administrative decisions.
During the call, many listeners had concerns not just with reform, but also with drug use by the police and psychological evaluations regarding peace officers. Ray answered many of the public’s questions on those topics. The doctor, who has a private family practice and serves in a professional capacity with the Dallas Police Department, remarked that not only is a work background check always done but mental analysis is also part of the employment process.
“Every police officer, before they are hired, undergoes a psychological screening, which means that we give them a series of … personality tests to assess that they have specific traits that are necessary for the job, and those traits include whether or not they exhibit good decision-making, whether or not they exhibit impulse control, whether or not they’re conscientious, whether or not they are competent socially…” she explained.
Measures that detect bias or indicate any type of aggression or violence in their history, as well as mental illness, past drug abuse or legal issues, are also used. Brown mentioned that a similar system exists for her department.
Officers are always drug tested before hiring, as well as regular random tests after hiring, Hall added. She confessed that, since the testing is systemically random, not every officer is randomly tested on a regular basis. She observed that such a move might be considered. She also said that drug testing is also required whenever an officer is involved with an incident, such as a shooting or after an accident.
When the topic of defunding police came up, the chief and sheriff both acknowledged their opposition to the concept. Johnson expressed her view as well.
“I have not been in but one community for a very long time and that’s Dallas. I would not support defunding the police department. Like any other department, budgets might need to be reviewed, and I have a feeling that what we’d probably do is add some more funds to cover more programs. However, I just want to let you know that I would not want to live in any community that did not have a police department,” she said.
“We have lots of questions on our police and their behavior, but it’s not the whole department, and so I think that’s where all of us are trying to get, is how we address the problem, and that’s where we’re trying to get legislatively to help with that.”
It was Hall who perhaps wrapped up the current issues between law enforcement and civilians most concisely during the call when she took a bigger-picture approach to the purpose of the town hall event.
“The Dallas Police Department offers cultural diversity training, multiculturalism, implicit bias training, so there is a plethora of training regarding our various communities and the diverseness that we have,” she maintained.
“But one of the things we have to remember is that there is a culture within policing that has to be addressed. All the training in the world does not prevent the culture that exists from existing.”
Though she emphasized a need for cultural change, she also offered a possible path to alleviating the issue.
“So what we’re doing right now is looking at a cultural assessment,” she concluded. “And we’ve had some of our community businesses and community leaders step up to assist us in funding that for our department so that we can identify those cultures that exist – those driving factors that drive behavior in our organization – and so that we can mitigate and drive those things out and change where we are as a department.”