The Use of Force Committee and Its Impact on Denton County

Denton - As of June 9, the Denton Mayor and city council approved the Use of Force Committee in response to the demands for justice for Black Americans by those who want a system that limits excessive use of force by police. By the 15 of September, the committee submitted its list of demands after conducting months of research with community input to try and make the residents of Denton County feel safer.

The Use of Force Committee is based around reviewing police polices and past arrests to determine what procedures need reform if any.

The committee is made up of 21 members representing various organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and major sub-communities within Denton such as the University of North Texas, DISD, Persons of Disabilities and the like.

In the wake of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, a number people have been calling for police reform. Most cities have been scrambling to find something to appease the public and Denton is one of the few making the effort to help its citizens.

One member of the committee is University of North Texas' Cameron Combs who is the Vice President of the Student Government Association. Combs was referred to the committee by UNT President, Neal Smatresk.

It is vital to have a representative from the different colleges that also help to make up Denton. Especially with the recent concerns from students who attend the University of North Texas at how their own police department have handled recent situations.

UNT PD has had its own recent backlash back in early June when an officer stopped and arrested a student, Jekhari Williams, for riding his bicycle through campus without a bike light. Williams, a Black man, was stopped on his way home by officer Ryan Thomas.

The video shows that as Williams was being detained, two other white students on bikes rode by and were not stopped. Williams had first been detained and was later arrested during the encounter for "resisting" and according to the officer two prior outstanding warrants.

Another incident that occurred in connection to UNT, is student Darius Tarver, who is one of the many Black men who have suffered death at the hands of police who used excessive force, and from Denton's own PD. This act angered and upset many UNT students as well as those who live within Denton's county border. This was made evident by the protests that occurred in Denton Square this summer with the response to 'Say His Name' being Darius Tarver.

The Denton Police Department is a complete separate entity from UNT's police department; however, with rising concerns from students who attend the university who are also Denton residents, it is a question if any of these policies will be translated onto campus.

The short answer is no, but there is a want for change within UNT PD.

"I will say that I think this is something that the University should implement," said Combs. "This committee is centered around reviewing policies and understanding what happens in certain cases, as well reviewing past arrests which entails that UNT PD will be checking demographics, gender, age, etc."

Within Denton itself, the Use of Force Committee is set to help implement real change should these polices of reform be approved.

However; most people didn't know it even existed. When polled, all of the Denton residents who answered said that they had not heard of the Use of Force Committee. On top of that only 33% said it made them feel safer.

"As a Denton resident, the Use of Force Committee does make me feel a bit safer, it puts more barriers in place to prevent any abuse of power or 'accidents'" said Destiny White, a University of North Texas student. "As a minority I believe it is a step into the right direction but only when officers are given severe punishment for their actions, not just paid leave. I think that's when we will see some change."

Sheryl English who is on the committee to represent the Denton Police said the opposite. In fact, when it comes to how Denton residents feel about the committee, she says it makes them feel safer. English commented that the committee learned that outdated polices are now being reviewed.

"Polices that hadn't been updated since the 80s had been and continue to be updated by the current chief as soon as he came on board," said English.

Denton Police Chief, Frank Dixon, has been updating these policies for about the past two years.

The committee operated by taking comments from the community, the department and even legal counsel before putting forth their recommendations to present to the city council and mayor, Chris Watts.

"The committee received quite a bit of information about the department; its policies, training and even participated in the use of force simulator at the police department," said English.

Some of what has been proposed to make Denton residents feel safer is more transparency and accountability, and civilian oversight.

With civilian oversight there have been five options proposed and it will be up to the council on which is used depending on factors such as financial or ease of implementation.

There is no solid picture painted on how exactly these policies will look like going forward if approved. The recommendations went before the city council on October 5.

With the good that could potentially come from this committee, it all depends on whether or not it is approved by the mayor and city council. However; that seems unlikely as Mayor Chris Watts appeared quick to dash the proposals at the City Council Meeting in which the Committee presented its findings.

Some Denton residents might continue to live in fear of their officers unaware that this committee was created. Denton county needs to work on creating interactive initiatives that showcase the change it is trying to implement for the good of its citizens.

The upcoming election gives the Use of Force Committee, another hope though. Keely Briggs and Gerard Hudspeth will both be running for mayor on November 3. According to both of their websites, they are in support for better police training to keep the people of Denton safe.