The Dallas Police Department Proves Law Enforcement Can—And Should—Be Better
In a profession under fire, the DPD is doing a lot of things right
Dallas police chief David Brown at prayer vigil (photo,Getty images)
Dallas Police Chief David Brown is being the lawman that America needs right now.
Following the horrific events of Thursday night’s sniper attack that left five police officers dead and seven more wounded at what was a peaceful demonstration in the massive Texas city, Brown has reiterated his department’s commitment to community policing and the use of de-escalation tactics.
“We won’t militarize our policing standards, but we will do it in a much safer way,” explained Brown at a press conference. “We are not going to let a coward who would ambush police officers change our democracy. Our city, our country, is better than that.”
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who was standing alongside Brown to field questions, reiterated his Chief of Police’s point, saying, “This police department trained in de-escalation far before cities across America did it. We are one of the premier community policing cities in the country. We are working hard to improve, and there’s always room for improvement. But we are best in class we feel.”
And Rawlings and Brown aren’t just tossing out empty words, either. The data seems to bear out the Dallas Mayor’s assessment of a top-tier department. BuzzFeed reports the DPD’s excessive force complaints dropped more than 60 percent between 2009 and 2014, thanks to a deliberate campaign that trains officers engage with suspects calmly and slowly, instead of immediately resorting to shouting or uses of force.
The Department also apparently has seen declines in officer-related shootings, and has developed a policy of transparency around incidents that do occur. They maintain a website where people can access data about a decade’s worth of police-involved shootings in the city, and they keep a second website “that catalogues all police encounters that result in an officer drawing a weapon, using a baton, or physically restraining a suspect,” according to Slate.
Major General Max Geron, head of the DPD’s Media Relations and Community Affairs and Planning Units, told The Washington Post two years ago that from his perspective, “The ideal police response to a protest is no response at all,” adding, “You want to let people exercise their constitutional rights without interference.” (Geron received his Master’s from the Naval Postgraduate School, and wrote his thesis on policing and protests examined through reactions to the Occupy demonstrations in Oakland, California.)
Before the shooting started on Thursday night, Dallas police officers were posing for pictures with fellow citizens, one even featuring a sign that said “No justice, no peace.”
In the wake of Ferguson, Missouri, when the city rioted after the shooting of Michael Brown, Dallas Police Chief Brown started reviewing his department’s policies so it could proactively address problematic practices. According to the Dallas Morning News, he wanted to, “make changes voluntarily rather than end up under a court-ordered consent decree as has occurred in other major big cities.”
No department will have a perfectly clean record, and the inherently violent nature of law enforcement will mean that incidents will occur that result in deaths. But Chief Brown and Mayor Rawlings have demonstrated a commitment to better policing that has yielded a concretely better police force in its community. That’s a strong indicator that in the wake of Thursday’s sniper attack, the Dallas Police Department is willing and able to be better still.