Dallas' Chief Problem

Nobody believes Terrell Bolton anymore--except his friends at Dallas City Hall

About 200 white middle-class homeowners showed up at Walnut Hill Recreation Center one evening last month to talk about things they were sure someone at Dallas City Hall should be able to fix. As they filed to the microphone and described their concerns about treacherous intersections, loud apartments and aggressive panhandlers, one began to wonder why so many of Dallas' black leaders had dedicated nearly three hours to attend such an intensely local affair.

Why had people like activists Lee Alcorn and Roy Williams, police union head Thomas Glover and Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill turned up at a meeting where residents wanted to talk about misplaced traffic cones on Midway Road?

They were there, it turns out, because the chief was among the city officials invited to speak. "I thought it was a setup...an ambush," says Glover, president of the predominantly black Texas Peace Officers Association.

Attorney Don Tittle alleges Bolton was informed about the fake-drug cases in October 2001. "I was told Bolton just blew it off," says Tittle, who is representing 13 of the fake-drug victims in a suit against the city.
Peter Calvin
Attorney Don Tittle alleges Bolton was informed about the fake-drug cases in October 2001. "I was told Bolton just blew it off," says Tittle, who is representing 13 of the fake-drug victims in a suit against the city.

After being introduced by Mitch Rasansky, the council member who hosted the town hall meeting, Don Hill charmed the audience with a story about how he happened to drop in because his wife had never been to such an event. "That was part of it. That wasn't all of it," Hill said later. "I had some concern that this could have been hostile for the chief."

As expected, a handful of residents brought up several of Bolton's past and current troubles, including the narcotics scandal. But most seemed more interested in pesky problems in their daily lives: hookers near the freeway, or the broken crosswalk button at the corner of Forest Lane and Preston Road.

As Bolton fielded their questions, he came across as personable and upbeat, a can-do executive in a big blue suit. "You'll get those extra patrols starting tonight!" he assured one woman who complained that the local patrol division supervisors told her they couldn't spare a man to deal with rising crime on her street.

The glum-faced Alcorn and the other Bolton supporters began to relax in their seats when they saw how well things were going.

Tim Dickey, a longtime neighborhood leader in the Bachman Lake area, was in the audience, sitting next to a man he described as a "crusty-old-fart, don't-raise-my-taxes, I-hate-the-city type...Even he was saying, 'I'm starting to like this guy.'" But Dickey was not so easily sold.

"Politics is very important to Terrell Bolton," says Dickey, who has known him since the early 1990s, when he was in charge of the Northwest patrol division. "He's pretty good in that setting." But when the folding chairs are put away, Dickey sees a department that is anything but upbeat and can-do.

"In Northwest we have a deputy chief who Bolton triple-promoted [June Kim-Edwards] and put in the job. What we need is a seasoned veteran with proven results," he says. "The last time I complained about gang activity, Northwest referred me to the gang unit. I found out they only work weekdays, and when I got them, they sent me back to Northwest. It's like the department has completely given up."

Remarkably, not an insignificant number of police officers agree.

"The troops don't have much motivation to do anything," says Michael Walton, who in May took over as the first black president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 588, which has about 400 members from DPD. "Everyone--black, white, Hispanic, male, female, dog, cow--wanted to see Bolton come in and do well. But it's slowly slipped away. It's a lost cause. The troops don't believe him. All I hear from my members is, 'When is he gonna leave so we can get someone else in here?'"

Even Bolton, a 22-year department veteran whom City Manager Benavides promoted in October 1999 without an interview or a background check, calls his first years in the job a "rocky start." He has been beset by controversies large and small, from his inability to dispel questions about his role in a 1993 strip-club scandal to his mass demotion of nine seasoned commanders, to the fake-drug fiasco.

While those issues have been heavily publicized, rank-and-file officers point to Bolton initiatives within the department as poor planning at best, or public relations stunts at worst. Within months after taking office, for instance, the chief announced he would be moving 120 officers from investigative and other units back to patrol the streets. Three months later, his office was touting instant crime-reduction results in the daily newspaper. What went unreported--and everyone in the department came to find out--was that fewer than 90 officers were moved, and nearly everyone was back at his or her old job within six months.

The chief declined through his personal spokeswoman to be interviewed.

Nothing Bolton has said or done has shaken confidence in him as thoroughly as the drug scandal and what he said about it when it went public a year ago.

Several defense lawyers had tipped off WFAA-Channel 8 that the drugs their clients were alleged to have sold were nothing but finely ground gypsum. Channel 8 aired the first fake-drug story on its noon report on New Year's Eve.

Hours later Bolton called a news conference. For the event, Bolton's staff borrowed a cache of dangerous-looking semiautomatic rifles from the department's property room. The military-style weapons may have been good props, but they had absolutely nothing to do with the bogus busts.

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