Use-of-Force Committee created to review Denton Police Department policies

Article Originally Published by Ileana Garnand on North Texas Daily

Denton’s newly-formed Use-of-Force Committee has begun its investigation and review of Denton Police Department policies after the city joined a nationwide initiative for Black Lives Matter created in response to the murder of George Floyd.

The ad hoc committee was approved by Denton City Council in early June. With it, Mayor Chris Watts united with the nationwide Commit to Action initiative for police reform, founded by former President Barack Obama and the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance. The city’s mission utilizes a plan to “review,” “engage,” “report” and “reform.”

“It’s critical to all communities within the city of Denton that they are protected by the police and they don’t feel like they need to be protected from the police,” Denton City Council member Paul Meltzer said.

Committee meetings have been held every Thursday and will transition to a biweekly format starting this August.

Presentations make up the majority of the meeting agendas, which include conversations regarding city and state-level law enforcement policies.

The final meeting will be held on Sept. 10 and the committee’s recommendations on the Denton Police Department’s use-of-force policies and practices are due no later than Sept. 15, 2020

The committee consists of 26 members. As a special committee formed by the mayor, 21 were appointed by Watts and five are ex officio members. Meltzer said he was initially reluctant to the idea of having only one person in charge of choosing the committee’s members but then “saw the roster and was very impressed and happy to support it.”

“A number of people contacted me saying [Denton] can’t have a committee without including a person [representing a certain demographic] and that person was on it,” Meltzer said.

Officer Yancy Green, the Secretary of the Denton Police Officer Association, was selected to represent both the association and the police department on the committee.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Green said. “So I can provide facts about the inner workings of the department.”

While the inclusion of a representative from the university was allegedly a point of contention, Meltzer said Denton City Council members advocated in favor of the perspective of younger citizens.

Representatives from the University of North Texas, Texas Woman’s University and North Central Texas College were chosen.

Cameron Combs, the Student Government Association’s Vice President and the Black Student Union’s former President,  currently serves on the committee. President Neal Smatresk contacted Combs in early June, informing him of the committee.

“It’s important to have young people sitting on the committee — especially young men of color — to give their perspectives and experiences,” Combs said in an email to the North Texas Daily. “It’s rare to find many people under the age of 35 who are present in a lot of these spaces nationwide. I want to emphasize the importance of having young black men on this committee because if we look at statistics this demographic is the one that is oftentimes victimized/killed by police officers.”

The Use-of-Force committee’s first public interest meeting was held on July 23. Community members were able to submit an online comment before the meeting began or call in during the designated public commenting time.

Meltzer said he considered the meeting successful and noted a difference between a majority of the online comments and phone calls. The former was more supportive of the police department and expressed a feeling that Denton is “not like other places.” Conversely, many of the calls included concerns about Denton’s use-of-force policies.

Green said a majority of the public input regarded department customer service concerns, specifically about the ability to obtain police reports.

“A majority of the callers talked about how they felt there needed to be changes made to how law enforcement reacts in light of a crime,” Combs said. “Whether that person is mentally ill or on drugs, that should not change the way police handle the situation.”

Combs said some concerns brought before the committee by several people who had been affiliated with DPD involved personal experiences and encounters with DPD police officers.

“Some were good and some were bad,” Combs said. “But I think allowing citizens the opportunity to share their personal testimonies was a very efficient way to address some problems occurring within the Denton Police Department.”

Information regarding all previous and future Use-of-Force Committee meetings can be found on the city of Denton’s public meetings webpage.

Featured Image: Denton police stand near the courthouse-on-the-square during a protest on June 1, 2020. Denton City Council approved the formation of an ad hoc committee, which will make recommendations on police use-of-force polices and practices. Image by Samuel Gomez

Source: North Texas Daily