David Brown Is Making Dallas Safer Through Smart Policing, but Not without Controversy

Categories: Crime

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Can Turkyilmaz
In this week's Dallas Observer we profile 20 of the metro area's most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Can Turkyilmaz. See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.

Dallas Police Chief David Brown didn't need to be told there was unrest. The barest recitation of facts -- 31-year-old male, unarmed, dead from a cop's bullet in Dixon Circle -- was enough. He knew the South Dallas neighborhood as a powder keg, just as it had been when his SWAT team was called there 20 years earlier to check the seething outrage that followed the Rodney King case. One spark could set it off, and James Harper's July 2012 death threatened to become a flamethrower.

Brown, his day off prematurely over, donned his uniform and arrived on Bourquin Street, where he helped talk down a restive crowd, just as John Wiley Price had done two decades before. The mob dispersed, crisis averted.

But while Dallas may have dodged a riot, Dixon Circle remained the same resentful pocket of anger and distrust it had been for more than a generation. Emergency triage is one thing. Healing a relationship with an ill-used and forgotten part of the city is something else entirely.

The James Harper shooting marked a turning point for Brown. He was already a believer in community policing, of having officers patrol neighborhoods as community members rather than an occupying force. Post-Harper, he pursued this policy with a new sense of urgency.

Before, Dallas cops shot civilians with relative impunity. Now, pulling the trigger in the wrong situation is liable to get them fired and, if the shooting's egregious enough and caught on video, indicted. Brown will probably even live-tweet their disciplinary hearing.

The rank-and-file aren't all pleased. Brown's chief public foe, Dallas Police Association President Ron Pinkston, says Brown has crushed morale and made officers less safe by making them question when it's OK to pull the trigger. Neither are community activists, several of whom showed up at City Hall to plead for the creation of an independent police monitor to review all officer-involved shootings.

Brown welcomes the back-and-forth as part of a healthy civic dialogue, but he rejects the criticism. The department's upper ranks -- and especially the police unions -- are populated by old-school, thin-blue-line types who feel cops can do no wrong. Brown frames his tenure as an attempt to usher a new way of thinking built around transparency, accountability and, judging by his Twitter profile, the prolific use of social media.

Besides, the cops and the activists don't write DPD's budget. That's the City Council's job, and Brown has proven himself an adept politician. The evidence is there to be seen at any given meeting of the council's public safety committee, whose members seldom fail to shower Brown with praise.

With crime in Dallas down for the 10th consecutive year, who can blame them? Part of the drop can be explained away as part of a national trend or chalked up to changes to the way the department reports certain offenses, such as shoplifting. But the decline is real. Dallas is an objectively safer city than it was when Brown took over four years ago. He doesn't see why that should stop now.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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6 comments
kergo1spaceship
kergo1spaceship

I think The Chief is trying to make a difference.......BTW, did you all see that cruise ad at the top of the page with Baby Dolls.



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beckyjsanders
beckyjsanders

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RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

I really wish politicians and their appointees would stop using the term, and the media would stop repeating, "transparency".  It's obvious that their idea of its meaning is different than everyone else's.  Government doesn't strive to achieve transparency; not with the governed, not even within it's own ranks.

Not really a dig on Brown, he seems less odious than most public officials, just really tired of that damn term being overused.

Kind of like 'tantrum'.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

This is the way it should be, and we need more stories like this.  The most important Peelian principle, to me (the principles on which modern policing is founded) is this:


To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.


Dallas has done a good job of dropping crime.  They've done it at the expense of writing BS, revenue generating traffic tickets.  That's good.  They should be cops, not tax collectors.  Dealing harshly with excessive force is exactly in line with the Peelian principles as well:


To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.


When the police are killing people who don't have to be killed, then the public no longer supports them, and they cannot reduce crime without the support of the public.  And yes, that means indicting them when they would likewise indict a private citizen who pulled the trigger:

To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion; but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour; and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.

So yeah, it makes your job more dangerous.  Fine.  That's the only way you can do your job.  Being a cop is much safer now than many common jobs, like construction or even taxi driving.  If you want to be thought of as a hero, then that means taking a risk so that the general public doesn't have to, not to put the general public at risk for your own safety.
I'll continue to jump on Brown when I think he's failing the principles.  On the whole, though, he seems to be an astute student of them, and overall, a good cop.  (And as a general cop hater, that's not an easy thing for me to say.)

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

Though I do not agree completely with Chief Brown, I give him more deference than any city official because, to an outsider, he seems professional and competent and is not a relentless media whore.  When he started, I had the impression he had a group of less than skilled people above and below him in organization that needed serious weeding.  That episode with his son's funeral was classic stupidity by bonehead underlings.  From my corporate background, I am ok with a city exec deciding who works for him or her and have grown tired of these city underlings that supposedly have political juice.  I respect the rank and file's service, but the taxpayer in me wants these stupid acts that trigger lawsuits stopped.  Stupid acts include exec management too.  At some point you get in line or leave. 

kergo1spaceship
kergo1spaceship

@beckyjsanders


oh, I'm going right now!  i also work at shopright; they so mean....no give me water or smoke break. can me work in underwear at job +sswipe?

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