Who Controls the Cops?

Because of racial gridlock, the answer is nobody

When board member Anne Carlson, a North Dallas conservative, asked Royster why he'd ignored the board's strong recommendations, he cut her off: "You can strongly recommend, ma'am, but I take orders from the chief of police."

Garrett jumped in: "Let me interrupt at that point and say everything this board does is a recommendation, but it's also a reflection of the community. It [the board] is a pretty good sampling of the community, and I would think that would lend a little bit of weight to the recommendation. I don't think asking for an apology for an admitted error that has taken place is unreasonable..."

But Royster cut Garrett off and told him he wasn't bound by anything the board said.

Acting review board chairman Tony Garrett says the real issue with the police department is not race but civilian control.
Peter Calvin
Acting review board chairman Tony Garrett says the real issue with the police department is not race but civilian control.

Garrett told Royster: "What we are getting right now and have the last couple of years [from the police department] is like dropping a penny down a wishing well. We don't even hear the splash, let alone get our wish."

Royster said: "That comes from higher than me, sir."

At the end of that meeting Garrett persuaded the rest of the board to appoint a three-person subcommittee to request a meeting with Chief Bolton. At the top of the subcommittee's agenda was a request that the department, as policy, provide the board with written responses to its recommendations, stating how it intends to respond and why.

Bolton subsequently declined to meet with the subcommittee. A spokesperson for Bolton confirmed to me that Bolton had instructed the subcommittee to meet with the midlevel police officials who already sit on the board as ex officio members. Garrett and other board members with whom I spoke took the response as a rebuke from Bolton.

Many of the people who serve on the board think their time is wasted and the board is a joke. Board member Eladio Martinez, who is Councilwoman Elba Garcia's appointee, said, "The citizens on the police board don't have any respect from the police officers. They don't respect the police board, because they know it's just a dummy board. We don't have any power to do anything to them, so why should they fear us or anything like that?"

Milton Loeb, appointed by Lois Finkelman, said: "I hear that the police don't think much of us. We're just kind of a nuisance." Loeb said many of the board's worst problems have to do with the basic weakness of its structure, but he pointed also in the general direction of Bolton.

"There probably is some problem with police leadership in addition to structure," he said. "When we make requests for improvements, we often never hear back even with an answer of yes or no."

That's not structure. That's attitude. That's, "We won't even dignify your existence with a response." But it's police attitude, not racial attitude.

Garrett is an interesting character in all this. A North Dallas conservative Republican, first appointed by Paul Fielding, now the appointee of James Fantroy, Garrett comes at police issues from a basically conservative/libertarian position. For him, the problem is not race but civilian control.

"The police department is a creature of city government," he said. "It is an extension of the city's police powers granted under the home-rule charter, and if the council can't run its own police department, then nobody's in charge."

All of that brings us back to Square One, also known as King's X. I don't believe that the complaints taken before the council last week were drummed up or exaggerated. There were mothers down there screaming about dead sons. The council clearly was taken aback.

But everybody's paralyzed by racial gridlock. I don't know whether he has convinced himself, but Chief Bolton has convinced everybody else in black leadership that the No. 1 civil rights issue in Dallas right now is his job.

The mayor may get the basic issues here better than most at City Hall, but black people don't trust her.

The one black leader who does see through some of the race-card business surrounding Bolton and the police department is Lipscomb. At the coalition's news conference last week, Lipscomb broke ranks with everyone else and said this was not a time to dance around basic issues. He said specifically that the chief needed to back off his refusal to meet with the review board.

Life is really complex, isn't it? The two people who have the combined insight and clout to resolve most of the city's urgent police issues are Lipscomb and Miller. And they will get together on it soon, right after we start seeing a lot of winged pork overhead.

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