Ticket to Ride

It's good news for bad people as low morale saps Dallas cops' will to work

We must have picked all the sour apples.

"We expect a lot of our officers, and I have not seen anything to the effect they are laying down," Hampton says. "I have not seen anything that concerns me about the level of service."

Similarly, he says he doesn't believe the department has a morale or productivity problem. He says he tells officers that morale "comes from within...in what you're doing."

Former Dallas police Sergeant Raul Rios quit the department and went into the restaurant business last year. He says leadership and morale at the department have tanked.
Mark Graham
Former Dallas police Sergeant Raul Rios quit the department and went into the restaurant business last year. He says leadership and morale at the department have tanked.
Productivity has plunged, but top assistants to police Chief Terrell Bolton say there's no problem. Rank-and-file officers disagree.
Peter Calvin
Productivity has plunged, but top assistants to police Chief Terrell Bolton say there's no problem. Rank-and-file officers disagree.

Hampton, though, says he is at a loss to explain why arrests and ticket writing have dropped so swiftly. "I don't have an answer," he says. "We have seen somewhat of a national trend where you have a reduction in arrests nationwide."

FBI statistics support that view, but only to a degree. Few departments have had as sharp a decline as Dallas, particularly in solving violent crimes.

Hampton, who was the only administrator made available to answer the Observer's questions, says DPD has not added detectives to investigative units--which target major crimes such as homicide, rape and robbery--since Bolton became chief. So as the number of crimes has inched up, each detective faces a bigger workload.

Hampton said he "could not speak for" the huge drop in drug arrests, many of which are made by a specialized squad. The narcotics unit was hit with a widely publicized scandal in late 2001 in which a DPD informant set up more than a dozen Mexican immigrants with large quantities of fake drugs. It appears the bogus-drug fiasco paralyzed drug enforcement throughout 2002. Deputy Chief John Martinez, head of the narcotics unit, did not return calls for comment.

Although most of the department's enforcement statistics are going down, Hampton points out that it has kept up with national averages by at least one yardstick. DPD's ability to arrest suspects in all crimes--violent ones and more-difficult-to-solve property crimes such as car theft, larceny and burglary--is on par with the national average, statistics show.

In 2001, the last year for which comparisons are available, departments in the nation's eight largest cities solved 17.8 percent; Dallas' rate was 17.5 percent.

It's hardly a given, though, that a department's success at identifying and arresting suspects should be getting worse. In El Paso, for instance, the clearance rate has gone up four years in a row. "I've got an excellent department willing to work," says El Paso police Chief Carlos Leon, who took over the post four years ago. "I've also been working hard to develop what I call our sixth man, the community, which supports their PD and is willing to be involved."

Leon says he has had to work, as has Dallas, against a backdrop of contentious pay and benefits issues affecting the ranks. Last year, after more than a year of negotiations, El Paso reached a new contract with police that included a pay raise, putting officers more in line with departments in the Southwest.

Hampton says it is fairer to compare Dallas' record with cities such as Phoenix, which is similarly large and sprawling with a population that has grown in each of the last five years. In Phoenix, the clearance rate for violent crime has been more or less steady for the past five years, while the arrest rate for property crimes has dropped along with Dallas'.

Unlike Dallas, Phoenix makes its crime stats available to the public on its Web site, and they are frequently updated. "It's no secret in Phoenix that over the past couple of years we've become tops in the nation in auto theft," says Sergeant Randy Force, a department spokesman.

He says the drop in Phoenix's overall crime-solving numbers is driven by a spike in car thefts, of which only 9 percent are solved. (Dallas also solves only 9 percent of its car thefts.) "We've assigned several new squads to go after it," Force says.

In Dallas, no single crime stands out as car thefts do in Phoenix, although Hampton says car burglaries have been rising faster than other crimes and that they, too, are difficult to solve. "That's the thing that jumps out at us right now," he says. No new squads targeting car burglaries have been organized, but patrol divisions have been directed to step up enforcement in neighborhoods that have been hardest hit, Hampton says.


Officials with some of Dallas' police associations say the troops aren't lazy, they simply aren't being managed properly and are being conditioned to make fewer and fewer arrests.

"Officers are afraid to do their jobs for fear they'll get complaints," says Al Schoelen, secretary of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents about 600 officers. Minor complaints that used to be handled at lower levels are referred in Bolton's department to internal affairs, which is likely to take four to six months to make a decision, he says. Once internal affairs gets involved, the matter goes on an officer's record, regardless of the outcome.

Senior Corporal Glenn White, president of the 2,400-member Dallas Police Association, agrees. "The more aggressive you are, the more people you confront, the better chance you have of having a complaint," he says. "Right now, it all depends on who the individual is as to how much punishment they're going to get. Officers are very frustrated right now. If you keep hitting the dog in the head with a stick, he's gonna stay under the bed."

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