Color Code

Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle's honeymoon is about to end, if white, black and Latino officers have anything to say about it

There are those who say he's well on his way to proving he can deal with myriad pressures the job produces. And every officer and community leader interviewed during the past month by the Dallas Observer says they know Chief Kunkle has the city's best interests at heart. But they look at the major issues he must quickly address to restore morale--hiring, promotion, transfers and discipline--and realize each one has a major racial component. Which makes them wonder if there is any way to appease enough officers no matter what he does. Add to that the fact that both white and black officers are suing the department for discrimination, there are six police associations vying for his ear and many say they're already sick of hearing the chief discuss how he handled similar problems in Arlington, and it's a recipe for unrest. To quell it, he must somehow placate the police associations and community activists who are quick to apply pressure.

"The bad news is that the chief is Little Red Riding Hood and the department is the Big Bad Wolf," says Malik Aziz, head of the TPOA and promoted last week to lieutenant. "The good news is that we can peacefully coexist...but he will certainly have little room for error."

It's a glorious scene, every skin color under the rainbow dressed in blue. At one table, two black and two white cops sit, eating their meals. At another, two female Hispanic police officers share a light lunch. At another, one black and three white officers dine--two of the officers are patrol, two are bike cops. During the next two hours, a diverse mix of officers parades through the front door. DPD recruiters should come here and shoot video to show to all those who say Dallas cops just can't get along.
Malik Aziz, head of the predominantly black Texas Peace Officers Association, says Kunkle has made positive moves so far, but he faces some daunting challenges.
Mark Graham
Malik Aziz, head of the predominantly black Texas Peace Officers Association, says Kunkle has made positive moves so far, but he faces some daunting challenges.

They would do so if it wasn't lunchtime in late August at Hooters in the West End. Because that would suggest the only thing that truly binds all police officers is an affinity for wings and push-up bras.

Which would be unfair. Talk to officers long enough, and you realize that, on the surface, their concerns are the same regardless of race, color, creed. They want good pay, good benefits, opportunity for advancement, pride in their workplace, a fair shake. The divisions come when you ask them why they're denied these things. Inevitably, their answers center on race.

More specifically, white officers believe the greatest hindrance to their advancement is caused by unqualified officers of color being given preferential treatment in the name of diversity, not just under Bolton but for the past decade or more. Many black and Hispanic officers believe that any roadblocks to better jobs or pay within DPD are caused by systemic cronyism or outright racism. When you talk to enough officers, you wonder if anyone anywhere in DPD has the job they want or is paid enough.

To understand why these issues are so important to officers--and can be so divisive--it's important to understand the police culture and the recent racial history of DPD.

Promotions and transfers are the lifeblood of an officer. (In DPD, they go from being a patrol officer to senior corporal to sergeant to lieutenant to deputy or assistant chief.) To qualify for many of the desired jobs, such as detective work, officers must at least make senior corporal. Also, if officers want command-level jobs, they must first serve in the "middle management" positions, otherwise they must be double- or triple-promoted. This was done under Terrell Bolton as well as under former Chief Mack Vines, but it always breeds resentment within the ranks.

The current system for promotion was born in a time of tremendous racial unrest, in Dallas and within the department. In the late '80s, a series of tragic shootings--officers killing young black men and young black men killing officers--led a drumbeat for change within the department, primarily from outspoken minority leaders. Then-Chief Billy Prince, in the wake of the killing of three officers in one month in early 1988, charged the media and activists with complicity in their deaths by "the atmosphere that's been created by negative criticism." The incidents spurred lawsuits against the city and DPD and the creation in 1988 of the Civilian Police Review Board, which was bitterly opposed by the Dallas Police Association, then representing 95 percent of all police officers.

Prince resigned suddenly that year, and the city council looked closely at recommendations on how to fix the racial unrest. Some policies they enacted were symbolic--changing the targets on the shooting range from black to green, for example. But the largest step, besides hiring outsider Vines to run the department, was to pass an affirmative action plan that would force DPD to better reflect the racial diversity of the city it policed.

To this day, officers say, this decision has undermined the morale of white officers who believe they're not treated equally--which has led to reverse discrimination suits--and cast doubt on black or Hispanic officers who receive plum transfers and promotions, regardless of their qualifications.

From a 20-year white officer, a senior corporal who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation: "I understand there's been racial problems in the police department in years past. But you need to suck it up and not discriminate against white officers. He's got to have the balls and smarts to show that the person he promoted might be as white as a ghost, but he can handle the job and he's the most qualified person available. He'll have to get the courts and the local community to accept that fact."

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