What the Dallas Police Department does right — and why doing those things could now be more difficult
Destructive acts often destroy more than what is immediately obvious. People are killed, but also institutions are undermined, attitudes change and harden, and the destruction snowballs. Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:
As I pointed out in today’s morning links, one particularly unfortunate aspect of the murder of five Dallas police officers Thursday night is that the city’s police department is a national model for community policing. Chief David Brown, who took office in 2010, has implemented a host of policies to improve the department’s relationship with the people it serves, often sticking out his own neck and reputation in the process. At risk of stating the obvious, no sane person would argue that these murders would have been okay if they had occurred in a city with a less community-oriented police department. Nor am I suggesting that the killer or killers represent any legitimate faction of the police reform or racial justice movements. But because Dallas is grieving right now, and the rest of us with it, it’s worth pointing out that in its police department, the city has much of which to be proud. Here are some of the areas where Brown and his administration have made changes:
Use of force
After a series of officer-involved shootings in late 2013, Brown overhauled the department’s lethal-force policies, including a requirement that officers undergo training every two months instead of every two years. The new policies won him a lot of public criticism from police groups and police advocates. He was even criticized by the Dallas Morning News, which accused him of being “reactive” and “moving too quickly.” Brown significantly expanded the data the department gathers on officer-involved shootings, and has set up a team to regularly review that data to identify trends and potential problems. The Dallas PD’s lethal-force policyincludes a statement that “protection of human life” is the agency’s primary goal, emphasizes that deadly force should be used with “great restraint,” only “as a last resort,” and requires officers to use all reasonable alternatives before resorting to lethal means. After an incident in which Dallas officers shot and killed a schizophrenic man, the department teamed with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to provide better training for intervening when someone is having a mental health crisis. Moreover, all of the data on the city’s officer-involved shootings is not only available to the public, there’s also a prominent link to the data on the department’s homepage. Brown also seems to understand the important distinction between the cop as warrior and the cop as guardian. And his top aides also seem to understand that when it comes to the harms caused by police militarization, imagery is as important as the gear and how its used.
Has it worked? It would appear so. After hitting a high in 2012, officer-involved shootings in the city dropped in each ensuing year. I don’t completely agree with everything Brown has done. Also in 2013, Brownquietly introduced a policy that allows police officers to wait 72 hours before answering questions about a shooting. I find the research suggesting that a wait time improves an officer’s memory lacking. And I’ve seen too many incidents of cops corroborating on a narrative to believe that isn’t how such a wait time would primarily be utilized. But that’s one issue. On the whole, Brown’s record demonstrates that he takes officer-involved shootings very seriously and is implementing policies designed to reduce them — at times taking quite a bit of heat for it.
Brown has fired more than 70 Dallas cops since taking office. But he doesn’t just fire bad cops, he also announces the firings — and the reasons for them — on social media. It’s a bold sort of transparency for which, again, he has taken some heat from police groups. Shortly after taking office, Brown fired a police officer who had kicked and maced a handcuffed suspect. But he also publicly praised the officer who turned that cop in, an implicit acknowledgment of and criticism of the notorious Blue Wall. “One of the things that I really want to express about Officer Upshaw’s action is that we should not as a department ostracize him in any way. We should applaud him coming forward, him intervening,” Brown said.
In addition to publicly announcing the termination of bad cops and making the data on police shootings publicly available, Brown has implemented a policy of collecting and releasing data on all use-of-force incidents. Brown has also implemented a body camera policy that’s mostly consistent with the model policy recommended by the American Civil Liberties Union. He also regularly makes himself available to the media. In a 2014 op-ed shortly after Ferguson erupted, Brown stressed the importance of transparency, disclosure and honesty in the hours after a police shooting. In am interview, he stressed the importance of staying connected to and in touch with the community, even when tensions are high: “I would much rather have a couple of hundred folks shouting at me in a church than on a protest line after a police shooting because ‘I never talked to them,’ or ‘I never listened to them,’ ‘I never had a meeting with them.’ ” DPD has also emphasized and publicized the fact that citizens have a First Amendment right to record police officers (although the agency’s actual policy could certainly be improved).
Since the Ferguson protests in 2014, there has been a lot of reporting about the devastating effects on the poor that come from the aggressive enforcement of traffic infractions and other petty crimes. Brown was ahead of the curve here, too. . .