Cops and Monsters

Lipscomb takes high ground on cop pay, leaves Laura low

Screenplay: Toiling for years deep in his political laboratory, Dr. Lipscombstein's dream has been to bring his revenge to life. An experiment with an ethics complaint against Mayor Laura Miller was a dismal failure. But now, with lightning crackling above his mountain lair, former city Councilman Al Lipscomb finally sees an eyelid flutter.

FADE IN.

INTERIOR: THE LABORATORY

In his new role as a member of the Dallas Citizens Police Review Board, former city Councilman Al Lipscomb is a champion of better benefits for cops. Mayor Miller, meanwhile, supports cutbacks.
Mark Graham
In his new role as a member of the Dallas Citizens Police Review Board, former city Councilman Al Lipscomb is a champion of better benefits for cops. Mayor Miller, meanwhile, supports cutbacks.

DR. LIPSCOMBSTEIN IS wringing his hands in exultation.

LIPSCOMBSTEIN:

It's alive! It's alive! At long last my sweet revenge on Laura Miller is alive!

And what an exciting movie this is going to be for us! I am definitely going to pack up my folding chair and a box of popcorn and go down to City Hall to be in the audience.

Lipscomb, who was appointed to the Dallas Citizens Police Review Board last August, has finally found the formula. By pushing the board to criticize a key Miller position on disability pay for injured cops, Lipscomb is about to force the mayor and the rest of the council to declare themselves on an issue they'd love to duck.

CLOSE-UP.

LIPSCOMBSTEIN leans forward, whispers gently to CREATURE:

Go down the mountain to City Hall. Look for a skinny white girl with a smart mouth. She wants to be your girlfriend.

Before we recite all the backstory on why former Councilman Lipscomb might want to see the mayor carried off by a scary monster, most of which I think you know, it's important to state that Lipscomb is on the side of right and honor in this matter, at least according to most of the people I talk to.

It was the Dallas Observer that first told the story of how a $900,000 budget cut backed by the mayor was working a hardship on cops shot, car-wrecked and otherwise badly hurt in the performance of their duties ("In Harm's Way," by Thomas Korosec, December 25). More recently and in one of her more extremely tone-deaf moments, the mayor was on TV speaking in snooty tones about how cops shot in drug raids aren't that different from sanitation workers hurt on trucks.

The point was, she said, the city is strapped and must cut the cops back to the same disability pay benefits it extends to the sanitation workers and other city employees. That translates to 13 weeks' full pay off the job with an injury, as opposed to what it used to be--52 weeks.

It's worth noting that the city is, indeed, financially hammered. And hammered is hammered. Something has to be cut. Something good and worthwhile has to be cut. Just cutting stuff we don't care about anyway, that's not hammered. Hammered is cutting what hurts. The mayor, to her credit, is willing to step up and do what has to be done.

But. Even extreme financial need doesn't let us off the hook on certain fundamental moral obligations. If you can't afford to slap a badge on somebody and ask him to go take that bullet for you in the neighbor's darkened house, then don't do it. Don't ask. Walk in the house and check it out for burglars yourself. But if you do ask someone else to go in harm's way for you, do you not owe a special debt when that person is harmed?

That's basically what Lipscomb said to me when I talked to him about this last week. He had introduced a measure before the citizens police review panel calling on the city council to reject cutbacks on pay for injured cops and "...to assure the men and women of the police department and their families that the people of Dallas will not abandon them when they most need our support."

On the phone Lipscomb drew a moral distinction between injuries that can happen to sanitation workers and injuries suffered by cops: "People say to me, 'Well, what about the garbage workers?' But those are accidents."

The difference, he said, is that the public wants the sanitation workers to be shielded from danger whenever possible. But we ask the police to go straight at danger.

"We are placing people in harm's way," he said, "and expecting them to protect us."

This basic line of reasoning--an important fundamental difference between cops and other workers--appears to have won Lipscomb the support of an overwhelming majority of his fellow review board members. Last week when he tried to introduce his resolution, a non-binding expression of the board's sentiment, the assistant city attorney who advises the board jumped all over Lipscomb with technical objections about the proper posting of agenda items.

She told the body it could not even discuss Lipscomb's resolution at last week's meeting. But a majority was so eager to get to it that they voted to hold a specially called meeting on March 23 to take it up.

Anne Carlson, appointee of conservative city council member Mitchell Rasansky, is in the deal. She told me she hopes the members of the review board will show up en masse to press the city council on the issue: "I'd like to have us all on the board go down to a city council meeting and say this is where we stand, and this is important, and tell us what we can do to help."

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