Dallas Police Chief's Crackdown on Trigger-Happy Cops Leaves Many Fuming

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David Brown
Dallas Police Chief David Brown has started coming down hard on officers who are too quick to resort to deadly force. He fired senior corporal Amy Wilburn, who shot an unarmed carjacking suspect last month. Same with Carden Spencer, the cop who opened fire on a mentally ill man in a Rylie cul-de-sac in October, and Bryan Burgess, who ran over a suspicious-looking bicyclist during the spring.

Compare that with Houston, where every police shooting over the past six years has been declared justified, and Brown seems like a paragon of justice and accountability.

See also: Bryan Burgess, the Dallas Cop Who Ran Over a Cyclist, Was Arrested Last Night

But Brown's whip-cracking, which has coincided with a swell of public outrage that's been building since last summer's shooting of James Harper nearly sparked a riot, hasn't pleased everyone. On the one hand are those who who want a harder line, pointing out that serious discipline only follows the revelation of some overwhelmingly damning piece of evidence -- say, a neighbor's surveillance video or an eyewitness account of the victim with his hands in the air -- and that his actions bear the hallmarks of crisis PR.

On the other are certain Dallas cops who say that Brown is making it impossible to do police work.

"Dallas Police Officers no longer know when they can use deadly force and, if they do, question whether they are going to be fired if they are forced to," Dallas Police Association president Ron Pinkston wrote last week in a letter to interim city manager A.C. Gonzalez, complaining of Wilburn's termination. "This up in the air policy creates doubt and hesitation in an officer about when/if to use deadly force, which ultimately is going to result in an officer and/or a citizen getting killed."

See also: Kelvion Walker, the Man Shot Monday by Dallas Police, Had His Hands in the Air, Witness Says

One could argue that causing officers to think twice before pulling the trigger could have the opposite effect, but the feeling is real and it's probably shared by a good many of the 4,000 current and former officers who are members of the DPA.

In any event, Brown can't win. Never could. Maybe the fact that he's pissing off both cops and cop skeptics alike from both sides is proof that he's headed at least in the right general direction.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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44 comments
Catbird
Catbird

There is something wrong with the police across the country. The training is different than it was 10 or twenty years ago and I believe it has to do with the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security and the Patriot Act under George W. Bush.


There is a DHS "Fusion Center" located in the DPD headquarters and according to their web site these things are supposed to coordinate counter terrorist activities and prevent a second 911 but their methodology is militarizing local police and they are abandoning the concept of the police officer being "peace officer". He is now a "first responder" and "enforcer".


This is leading to an "us-against-them" tribalism that we cannot afford to tolerate in our local police departments. 


See here: http://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/item/16942-dhs-creates-new-fusion-centers-taking-control-of-local-police 

Threeboys
Threeboys

Its a miracle that a riot did not take place after the James Harper shooting, credit to the leaders in the community for taking charge.


If we ever want 'the community' to have any trust in the police, firings like this have to happen.  He is adding credibility to the message that police are not above the law.

Yes, I said a Dallas City official is adding credibility.  Damn, that may doom him.

roo_ster
roo_ster

If a regular citizen would face charges in similar circumstances, I see no problem firing such officers.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

 "Dallas Police Officers no longer know when they can use deadly force and, if they do, question whether they are going to be fired if they are forced to," Dallas Police Association president Ron Pinkston wrote


In the words of John McClane, "welcome to the party, pal."  Because of your overcharging, plea bargain seeking cops, the general public has been in that situation for decades -- except we aren't worried about being fired, we're worried about life in prison (which is where some of these cops should be.)

RichGans
RichGans

the one guy was shot unarmed with his hands up...ON TAPE. the other person was shot unarmed with his hands up and there are witnesses. brown is doing the right thing.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

Remember -- Cowards Shoot First.


hth.

lebowski300
lebowski300

We certainly wouldn't want to create a situation where we have police officers with any reasons to hesitate in using deadly force. Does Ron Pinkston ever listen to himself?

Tim.Covington
Tim.Covington

1. I applaud his firing of those officers who have crossed the line.

2. If officers are unsure of the line where deadly force is justified. they need to be retrained NOW. It should be very clear. As a person who is not a licensed law enforcement officer, the line is very clear for me. Is it reasonable to belive that my life or the life of another is in imminent danger from the person? If the answer is yes, then I can use deadly force. If the answer is no, I can not.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

I am of the opinion that Cpl Wilburn got a raw deal.


Sure, policeman do make mistakes from time to time, but that is very, very  different from intentional misuse of police powers.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

When someone in power like Brown is pissing both sides off, you know he is on the right track.  Unfortunately in Dallas, this means you are on the track to the unemployment line

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@RichGans

Unfortunately, he's also phasing out the use of dash-cams in cop cars - so no longer will crooked cops have to worry about their equipment snitching on them.

James_the_P3
James_the_P3

@Tim.CovingtonApparently, there is an epidemic within the DPD of not knowing whether you can shoot a guy who has his hands up.  How else to explain the missive from their union that "Dallas Police Officers no longer know when they can use deadly force"?  Here's a clue for the Dallas Police Department--if a guy has his hands in the air, you can't shoot him.


One would have expected that to have been covered at some point during police training.  If it wasn't, or even if it was and it's since been universally forgotten, it's pretty clear that some retraining is needed.  Their own union admits to such.

James_the_P3
James_the_P3

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaulShe shot an unarmed man who had his hands up.  Yeah, maybe it was a mistake.  But it was a mistake that nearly killed a man.  


Even understanding that workplace mistakes in different professions are often not comparable, I don't think there are many (any?) jobs in America in which you can very nearly kill a man through your own negligence and keep your job.


Ok--president of the United States.  But really, that's about it.

xdarkridex
xdarkridex

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul You don't shoot people with their hands up.  That's not rocket science.  And if you make that kind of mistake, you absolutely lose your job.  If I screw up a technical detail at my job in software, I can get fired...and that doesn't involve SHOOTING ANYONE.

cawnlu
cawnlu

As soon as it becomes reasonable, and expected, that a regular citizen pursue and arrest armed felons then it will be reasonable to expect officers and citizens to face the same expectations in dealing with those incidents. I have no problem with the officer being fired, but I don't recall any reasonable expectation that a regular citizen engage in the type of call/incident she was involved in. Therefore, charges would be likely against a citizen because he/she isn't expected, advised, or even recommended to take that kind of action. Officers are expected to do that on a daily basis. An accident under those circumstances should probably result in dismissal, but it doesn't make it criminal.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@James_the_P3@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul 

Hindsight is 20-20.  We know now that the man in the car was unarmed.

At the time that Cpl. Wilburn jumped into the car to stop it in order to prevent further damage and potential injuries; she found herself face to face with a person in a car where the occupant(s) of the car had already fired on the police.

Seriously, what would you do in this situation?  You are trying to prevent further accidents and injuries and you are now face to face with a threat.  Come on now, quickly, you have 1/5 of a second to decide.  And no matter what decision you make, it will be not only a bad one, but the wrong one as well.

If you stop the car, you may be shot.

If you shoot the threat, you may be wrong and the car may hit the building anyway.

Time's up -- YOU LOSE.


I do not believe for a minute that Cpl. Wilburn started off her shift just itching to pop a few caps into some gangsta in the hood for a little vigilante, back alley, quick justice.


I firmly believe that when she went to go stop the car that she put her own life at risk to protect others; and, she just ended up in an impossible no-win situation.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@xdarkridex@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul 

In your job you do not have to worry about walking into a conference room and getting shot.

Go and reread all of the stories about Cpl Wilburn.  Essentially the facts are as follows as I understand them (and please correct them if I am incorrect):


1)  Police receive a call about a car (I don't remember the exact reason, perhaps it was a carjacking, any way it was something very serious).


2) The police find it and attempt to stop it in an apt parking lot.


3) I think that shots were fired from the car at the police (again correct me if I am wrong)


4) The driver bails from the car and runs.


5) The car continues to go toward one of the apt buildings.


6) Cpl Wilburn jumps into the car to stop it and finds out that there is someone inside the car.


Now think:


1) The auto is involved in a serious crime.

2) The number of people in the car is unknown.

3) The driver bails and runs.

4) Cpl. Wilburn puts her life at jeopardy to prevent additional damage and injury if the car runs into the apt building.

5) Cpl. Wilburn gets into the car to stop it and finds another person.


Now, what would you do if you were Cpl. Wilburn:


A) Exchange phone numbers for a later hook up.

B) Exchange pleasantries

C) Ask how your day has been

D) Pull your service revolver to defend yourself.

E) Ask for references on chop shops


Personally, I want to thank Cpl. Wilburn for having made a tough decision under really sh^&&y circumstances and I am glad that she is still alive.


I firmly believe that Cpl. Wilburn's intent was to bring the vehicle to a stop to prevent further damage and possible injury.  When she got into the car she perceived the other person as a potential threat.  I firmly believe that Cpl. Wilburn concluded that her life was in jeopardy due to the threat and made an appropriate response to that threat.


To the person who was shot, all I have to say is that you need to be making some better life choices.

cawnlu
cawnlu

I understand your point. However, when you make a mistake in software, it is made in a safe office or lab, and you probably don't have seconds to make the decision that results in a mistake. I'm not saying that she didn't deserve to lose her job, but we need to stop comparing every decision in every person's job as if they are the same. Your life is not at risk while you work with software. No offense to you or your job, but they are not comparable.

cawnlu
cawnlu

Police officers who shoot or cause serious bodily injury upon a person are automatically sent before a grand jury, just as any other citizen. Whether or not an indictment is issued is up to the citizens of that grand jury, just like anyone else. Nobody is talking about granting anyone the title of nobility. The question is what actions are reasonable under very dynamic circumstances that you and I are never faced with and have no concept of the issues involved. For that reason, the actions expected of professional law enforcement is not always the same as that expected from every citizen. Try as you might to make them the same, they simply are not. You are correct that law enforcement duties were carried out before there were professional police organizations. That was also a time of no constitutional protections of much of society (depending on skin color, country of origin, or simply “undesirable.” In many ways it was mob rule. Imprisonment and execution was subject to very little in the way of equal application or with concern for citizen rights, so let’s be careful when saying that those were better times or that citizens operate under some kind of higher moral authority than professional police officers do. There are reasons why the change to professional policing was made, and why there are different expectations for police and citizens in many circumstances.

roo_ster
roo_ster

@cawnluYeah, not so much.  

Phelps already schooled you on the Peelian Principle. 

How's about part of Article I Section 9 of the COTUS:

"No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States"

If we are to be a nation of laws we need everyone to be subject to the same laws to the same degree.  No sovereign immunity (nowhere found in COTUS) shielding some form actions that would get others indicted, no special laws granting powers, and no laws inflicting more punishment for crimes against those on the gov't payroll.

If it legal for a cop to stop a felony in progress it ought to be legal for a citizen to do so.  If a citizen shoots someone under circumstances that would get them indicted, a cop likewise ought to get indicted under the same circumstances.


And your insistence (that citizens that engage in such activities is vigilantism) is ahistoric.  Citizens existed and kept the peace in most parts of the the USA and its territories long before anyone paid by gov't with a badge did so.  They just were not paid to do so and did so without the unconstitutional doctrine of sovereign immunity.

cawnlu
cawnlu

I don't disagree with your historic citation. However, the basis of the issue is whether it is reasonable for citizens to be engaged in the same activities that police officers engage in on a daily basis. A citizen pursuing a person who is not a threat to him has been found time and again to be unreasonable under certain circumstances. I am, of course, excluding defense of self or others. It is almost always advised that citizens not confront dangerous felons, but to allow officers to do that. Believe me, I'm all for good citizens being armed and defending themselves, and to an extent, their own property. However, vigilante justice or pursuing and escalating situations are rarely advisable or reasonable. We do not allow officers the same leeway to shoot/kill unarmed burglars in a person’s home, but there are laws that allow homeowners to do that.

My point is that the expectations are different for officers and citizens, and there should be no black and white statement that an action that results in criminal charges for a citizen should automatically result in the same charges for an officer. There should be some reasonable allowances made for mistakes (not negligence) for the men and women who are put in those situations most often. I think that generally the CJ system understands that and gets it right. However, we as citizens must be careful in demanding superhuman performance from human beings in law enforcement.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@cawnlu  That's already the case.  Peelian Princple #7:


To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.


We already have the right to arrest and pursue felons.  What we don't get is paid for it, and we don't get the qualified immunity that a cop has from charges of assault and false imprisonment if we are wrong.


I'm not arguing that they shouldn't get the benefit of doubt for accidents.  I'm arguing the other way -- that general citizens should enjoy the same benefit.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@ScottsMerkin@bvckvs@RichGans

I didn't get it from a news story.   A acquaintance works for the DPD in fleet maintenance.  She tells me that they haven't ordered any new dash cams, and that as the older ones are failing, they're not being replaced.

I like this current Police Chief - and I doubt that he ordered it - so it's probably just something that's happening under the radar.

James_the_P3
James_the_P3

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul@James_the_P3We're all basically assuming that Cpl. Wilburn got into a car without bothering to do a visual inspection as to whether anybody was actually in it, aren't we?  And we're all assuming that that is somehow ok, aren't we?  


Because if we're not--if we assume that a visual inspection of a vehicle would be standard practice for a police officer (especially of a car that was just involved in a chase)--then Cpl. Wilburn's actions look a bit negligent.  After all, a third-party witness was able to see that there was a person in the passenger seat; why couldn't Cpl. Wilburn?

And if we conclude that her negligence put her in a situation in which she had to make a one-fifth-of-a-second decision of whether to shoot a man, then this looks rather bad, wouldn't you agree?

dballer49
dballer49

so you are basically saying shoot first and ask questions later

bmarvel
bmarvel

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul@bmarvel"Let the car go"?? The car was already stopped, Former Paul, wrecked, immobile. Shooting victim was sprawled in the front seat, hands up. Cop panicked. 

Is this the kind of cop we want on our streets?

Some years ago Mesquite police pulled over a car after a chase. Driver's girlfriend opened the door, fell out. Cops promptly shot her.

We pay police not just for their guns or their marksmanship. We pay them for their judgment.


ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@bmarvel 

True and the guy who was shot is alive to complain about it; and, he needs to be making some better choices in life.


I think that the next "Cpl Wilburn" will probably just let the car go.

 

bmarvel
bmarvel

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul@bmarvel@xdarkridex  Except in baseball you get to play another inning.

roo_ster
roo_ster

@DonkeyHotay "The only legitimate litmus test to Cops killing Civilians is -- Would a civilian shooting and killing another in the same circumstances be justified?"

This.  A thousand times, this.

bmarvel
bmarvel

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul@xdarkridex I would hope any cop confronted by this situation would: D) Pull your service revolver to defend yourself. And the withhold fire, inasmuch as the person has his hands up. (An option you very cleverly did not offer.)

There is some evidence that Wilburn is said to have apologized to the victim almost immediately. This would indicate she recognized her error almost immediately. But it WAS an error. Police work is hard and dangerous. That's why we rely on officers to display good judgment.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul @xdarkridex 


No one is FORCED to become a Cop ... no one.


If they can't take the heat, get the fuck out of the kitchen.


The only legitimate litmus test to Cops killing Civilians is -- Would a civilian shooting and killing another in the same circumstances be justified?


Being "scared of your job" ain't a legitimate excuse for homicide.


Go find another fucking job that doesn't involve Badges and GUNS.



xdarkridex
xdarkridex

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul


None of this matters a hill of beans and abandons all common sense.  


Man has hands up.  Do not shoot him.  This is not a difficult decision to make in -any- length of time. Anything else is an offense worthy of firing and, if common sense ruled the day, JAIL TIME.  Police get a free pass on this, so anyone complaining should keep that in mind.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@xdarkridex @cawnlu 


In a sane civilized world, the standard threshold for supposed "professional" law enforcement to shoot/kill another human being should be HIGHER than those of ordinary civilians -- not lower.



xdarkridex
xdarkridex

@cawnlu No, they're not comparable.


If you or I shoot someone who clearly has their hands raised and doesn't pose a threat, we GO TO JAIL.


Because of the nature of her job, she avoids that fate, even though common sense says that's exactly what she deserves.  (Again...it's not a split-second decision requiring a great deal of thought...man has hands up, do not shoot him.)

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