DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The controversy over a teen shot in Florida is giving new life to a push for more police oversight in Dallas.
Activists have started working to give a city police review board more power. They are already collecting signatures in an effort to force the initiative onto the ballot in November.
Activists with Dallas Communities Organizing for Change have been collecting signatures on a petition at local rallies for Trayvon Martin.
Martin was killed in a shooting in Sanford, Fla. in February. Police decided not to arrest his shooter, citing his claim of self-defense. Organizers said the Martin case has provided a spark locally for an effort that dates back nearly two years.
“A match to light the fire that was already there,” said Changa Higgins. “A great case to galvanize people and ignite people.”
Dallas already has a Citizens Police Review Board, which has been in place since at least 1989.
The new effort would replace it with something called the Office of the Police Monitor. Organizer Stephen Benavides said if the Martin case had happened in Dallas, the OPM would already be investigating police actions.
The current proposed ordinance would allow the OPM to do independent, concurrent investigations alongside the police department’s internal affairs investigation.
Right now, the board has to wait for the completion of the IA investigation, the final decision on discipline –– if any –– and any grand jury proceedings before it can review a case.
It cannot call in officers to appear before the board, recommend discipline or decide who was right or wrong.
“The officers don’t have to be accountable to the review board to even explain their actions or give them any report is there’s something suspicious,” Benavides said.
The new board could subpoena police, and members would be elected, not appointed by the city council.
The chairman of the current review board, Carl Raines, did not return calls for comment Wednesday. An overview of board functions provided by a city spokesman stated that the current board can make recommendations to the city manager’s office concerning officers that are the subject of a complaint.
It can also agree or disagree with decisions, and subpoena witnesses, other than the officers who sparked a complaint.
Organizers will need 20,000 signatures to force the ordinance to a vote by the November election. They are meeting with civil rights activists Thursday to expand the effort for signatures.