By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Last week I wrote a column saying that some of the more extreme claims made by police representatives during the recent debate over police pay didn't ring true. It's hard to believe they're starving to death on the average $60,000 a year we're paying them when so many of them are driving 'Vettes. Here is a sample of the response I received from Dallas police officers:
"It is people just like you, ignorant people, that make me not even want to put my badge on and go to work. Once again some stupid ass media person twists the truth and the facts to make his story show only a slanted one sided half. Hey nice research dumbass, take a trip over to D.H.A, the projects, where people pay 30 and 40 dollars a month for an apartment because they can't afford to pay full rent. Drive around that parking lot stupid ass, check out some of the same cars. No way, that couldn't be, those people can't afford new cars either. Right? But I know that trip won't happen, that would require you to go somewhere unsafe. I can already tell you don't have the balls to put a vest on and do the job of a police officer. You would rather hide behind your little desk and create slanted facts. You are nothing but a coward piece of shit, not worth putting my life on the line for. Slanted bullshit just like this makes [me] have to fight every day to get in that squad car. Every day."
I'm glad he still gets in the squad car. Every day. I do depend on him, and so does my family. He does have more courage than I. I respect him for it.
But that officer and every other police officer in Dallas need to sit down, calm down, take a deep breath and come to grips with an unpleasant reality: In this nominally very pro-police city, public regard for the police is probably at its lowest ebb in the past 25 years. Certainly the political influence of the police has never been weaker.
The causes are many: 1) serious mistakes by police union leaders in the recent pay dispute; 2) the uncivil behavior of uniformed officers in the city council chamber during debate on the budget; 3) the threat of political retaliation against officeholders who failed to deliver a big enough pay hike for cops and firemen, even though they are getting more money than other city employees; 4) the targeting of Dallas businesses for an economic boycott because executives of those businesses had opposed the police pay referendum.
On the day police officers jammed the city council chamber, catcalled the mayor, interrupted the meeting and behaved in ways that would have caused any other citizens to be evicted, the city council was so angry that it was within a hair-trigger of putting off their pay raise for six months. Even their usual supporters on the council were shocked and infuriated by the behavior of the sworn officers.
Pat Cotton, a political consultant who has run and advised campaigns for some of the city's strongest police supporters, told me she thinks their recent behavior has even lowered the value of their political endorsements.
"I have gone after their endorsements for my candidate every time I've had a candidate," she said. "Clearly the police and firefighters' organizations were respected by the voters.
"But at this time, especially after the scene they created at the city council, I think their effect has been diminished. And I think their intransigence about delaying their raise for two weeks or a month has negatively affected the attitude of people."
Cotton had the courage to talk to me on the record about the police, I think because she genuinely cares about them and is distressed to see them drifting so far out to sea. Other political experts would talk to me only on a not-for-attribution basis. But there was surprising unanimity on a number of points, the main one being this:
The time for the cops to wake up, smell the coffee and start acting like grown-ups was when they lost the May 4 referendum for a 17 percent police and fire pay hike by a margin of 73 percent to 27 percent. That was not an ambiguous message. That was the city stepping to the curb, cupping its hands and shouting at the police: "WRONG WAY!"
Nobody expects cops to be terribly political, at least not in this part of the country. It's generally not their nature. But the police should expect their own elected political leaders to be politically astute for them.
They are not. The campaign put on by the Dallas Police Association for the pay hike referendum was a mess, an embarrassment and a huge waste of money. And then to make it worse, the DPA completely misread the outcome and seriously misrepresented voter sentiment to its members.
The people opposed to the 17 percent pay hike did sophisticated testing and polling before they stuck a toe in the water. Their results showed that it was a serious mistake to say anything negative about the Dallas police to Dallas voters. In the weeks before the May referendum, Dallas police still enjoyed a shining image.