Dallas' Chief Problem

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

Meanwhile, the editorial page has given the chief a pass, writing virtually nothing about him in the past year--no editorial cartoons, no analysis of his words on New Year's Eve 2001. "When the daily paper goes silent on an issue, it just sort of goes away," says Tom Pauken, a businessman and former chairman of the state Republican Party.

Pauken sees the drug scandal as the clearest sign to date that the department is in disarray. "With the lack of leadership on the top, you have people going through the motions, tension in the rank-and-file, just a slow, steady deterioration of the quality of this department. If it's not addressed in the very near future, it's going to be very hard to fix."

Pauken and others who want Bolton removed have been disappointed that Miller has not led a charge to replace him, but there is only so much she can do in Dallas' weak mayor, weak council system.

Dallas police Chief Terrell Bolton has a credibility problem in law enforcement, political and media circles. But his earnestness and media savvy--as well as a powerful group of political supporters--have helped him deflect blame for the problems in his department.
Peter Calvin
Dallas police Chief Terrell Bolton has a credibility problem in law enforcement, political and media circles. But his earnestness and media savvy--as well as a powerful group of political supporters--have helped him deflect blame for the problems in his department.
Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill, top, is one of the chief's strongest supporters. He believes Bolton has made the department a better place for minority officers. District Attorney Bill Hill, middle, didn't have as much luck as Bolton in dodging blame for the fake-drugs fiasco. Mayor Laura Miller, bottom, pinned down Bolton on what he knew about the fake-drug cases and when he knew it at a council briefing in March.
Peter Calvin
Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill, top, is one of the chief's strongest supporters. He believes Bolton has made the department a better place for minority officers. District Attorney Bill Hill, middle, didn't have as much luck as Bolton in dodging blame for the fake-drugs fiasco. Mayor Laura Miller, bottom, pinned down Bolton on what he knew about the fake-drug cases and when he knew it at a council briefing in March.

"The city manager hires the police chief," Miller told Pauken during a KERA-Channel 13 interview in September when he brought up the chief's performance. "This city manager hired this police chief without an interview process...without input from most anyone. I think there's a lot that has transpired since then."

The mayor can express her frustrations, but it's clear she does not have the 10 votes it would take to pressure the city manager to make a change.

In September, in a vote that was overshadowed by the city's pressing budget shortage, Don Hill and other Bolton supporters were able to muster enough votes to protect two positions--with combined salary and benefits packages of $227,000--in the chief's office that Benavides had slated to eliminate. One was Bolton's $95,000-a-year personal spokeswoman, Janice Houston, whom Hill says is needed "to keep the chief out of the news."

"A vote to cut her was in many respects a vote to make the chief more vulnerable to media scrutiny and possibly to harm him," Hill says.

Miller, who called the vote "outrageous," could only find six other members on the 15-member council to support her effort to restore the city manager's cuts.

Several council members who occupy the middle ground between Bolton's vocal critics and hard-core loyalists--and who hold the balance of power--say they believe the chief is doing a passable job.

If anything, when council members call, Bolton is attentive to their wishes. "I have the topless industry in my district, drag racing, you name it, and every time I call he's very responsive," says council member Ed Oakley.

Councilwoman Veletta Lill says she puts stock in crime statistics to judge the department. After spiking nearly 6 percent in 2001, the number of reported crimes in Dallas decreased slightly over the first six months of 2002. The U.S. Justice Department reports that major crime nationwide rose 2 percent in 2001, and 1.3 percent in the first six months of 2002. In Dallas last year, violent crime ebbed while property crimes rose. Meanwhile, the department's response times have remained around eight minutes for emergency calls.

"It's sort of mixed," says Lill, who supports the chief's efforts to diversify the department and rates his performance "a B-minus, C-plus."

Lill and others say discussion about the chief at City Hall has died down in the past nine months because the fake-drug matter remains under federal investigation. If it turns out badly, pressure on the department and Bolton are certain to mount. "I'm for letting due process run its course," Lill says. "If something is found, there will be an outcry. There's a lot of public concern over this. People are outraged."

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