Ticket to Ride

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

Beyond that, White says, patrol officers are so tied up with answering dispatched calls--which include everything from crimes in progress to false alarms, barking dogs or loud-music complaints--they have little time to do anything else.

The officers the Observerinterviewed couldn't agree more. On many days, say Jaime and Lou, they finish one call and are immediately dispatched to another. A lot of that work has little to do with serious crime or making arrests. "You don't have time to sit on a hot spot, or keep your eye on a drug house. Before you can see what's going on, maybe identify the [criminal] players, you're called to go somewhere else," Lou says.

Hampton says that about 1,150 officers are currently employed to answer calls, and that 150 officers have been added to patrol since Bolton took over. Jaime, Lou and Al say that is almost impossible to believe because their shifts appear to them to be regularly understaffed.

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.

With no detectives being added to handle burglaries, thefts and violent crimes, White says it is clear why a smaller percentage of offenders are being arrested. "How are you supposed to put your best foot forward when you have 15 new cases on your desk a day? You can't."

Indeed, the numbers seem to lend support to White's claim. In 1999, for instance, DPD detectives and patrol officers arrested 1,727 people for violent crimes; three years later they arrested only a handful less: 1,677. The difference now is that more cases are coming in the door.

White says DPD brass have moved to fix only one area of declining law enforcement of which he is aware: the two-year traffic-ticket drought.

It is illegal in Texas for departments to set rigid ticket quotas, but there are more subtle ways to prompt officers to write more citations, White says.

Patrol officers are graded on their "activity"--the number of calls they respond to, arrests, tickets, stolen vehicles recovered and the like. They are expected to be as busy as the average officer in the sector where they work. The evaluations do not affect job security or pay, but they can come into play in promotions and transfers.

In February, DPD commanders changed the system they use to grade "activity," and the changes are likely to increase ticket-writing, White and other officers say.

In the past, a felony arrest and traffic ticket each counted equally on a point system. In the new "Patrol Daily Activity Report," traffic tickets were downgraded to be worth less than other work, such as making arrests, so officers who want to make certain they have satisfactory "activity" will be prompted to write more tickets, White and others say.

Beyond that, recovering a stolen car is worth less (1.3 points) in the new system than writing a speeding ticket (1.6 points). "They spent an enormous amount of time putting that form together," White says. "Their goal, I guess, is that they want more tickets."

Hampton says that isn't the case. He says the new point system was designed to be fairer for officers. "Some activity takes more time, and we wanted to reflect that," he says.


Of all the things affecting a department's productivity, one of the most difficult to measure is morale.

"There's no doubt morale and attitude affect a department's overall productivity and performance. There is a link, and there's any number of behavioral theories you can use to support that," says David Webb, assistant director of the Bill Blackwell Law Enforcement Management Institute at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville.

Webb says morale tends to sag when officers believe "all the rules and procedures they're used to are changed," especially when they have not been consulted. "They're no longer stakeholders in their department," he says.

If there's a constant in Dallas officers' complaints about Bolton's regime, it's that important career matters such as transfers, promotions and discipline seem to follow few rules. "It's a brother-in-law system," complains White.

A sergeant who declined to be identified says he has never seen morale lower in the three decades he has been with DPD. "Patrol officers work in their cars in ones and twos, and they pretty much do their job the way they want to do the job," the sergeant says. "You hear these officers in the hallways, and the bottom line is they're not happy. They're a very apathetic workforce. The attitude is: 'Why risk it? Nobody cares.'"

It would be unfair to lay all the blame on Bolton, although the plunge in morale--as well as police service--runs concurrent with his term, the sergeant says. "Things like pay and sick time and the money issues aren't Terrell Bolton's responsibility, and they're part of it."

But it is Bolton's responsibility to recognize the morale morass and address it. "He's making no moves to do so," the old department hand says. "There's no leadership I can see to turn things around."

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