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

"Members of this police department will turn off to him if he consistently uses Arlington as his standard," says one sergeant. "You cannot consistently say that 'In Arlington we did this, in Arlington we did that.' You have to say, 'Research around the country has shown this. I've talked to officers in Dallas, and they say this. I've looked at this program in L.A. and this program in New York and this program in Chicago. Arlington cannot be the standard. People are already upset about that."

Glover, friends with the Arlington police chief and an Arlington resident for 24 years, agrees. "Arlington has no significant minority community. You don't have areas like Fair Park and Dixon Circle. The department is one-sixth the size. The comparison doesn't work."

They understand that Kunkle started as a Dallas cop. They understand that some of the ideas he used in Arlington worked. They just have little faith they'll work in a department as big as Dallas. So when Chief Kunkle mentions to the various police associations that it was easier to address the concerns of the one large police union in Arlington, they don't hear that as someone suggesting that agreement among the police associations makes them more effective, which is what Kunkle meant. They hear it as the small-town chief longing for a simpler time at a smaller department when he had troops making requests to him on bended knee.

The Reverend L. Charles Stovall, head of Unified Organizations for Justice, says he's cautiously optimistic that Chief Kunkle will work toward progressive change in the way DPD views policing in Southern Dallas.
Mark Graham
The Reverend L. Charles Stovall, head of Unified Organizations for Justice, says he's cautiously optimistic that Chief Kunkle will work toward progressive change in the way DPD views policing in Southern Dallas.
George Aranda, head of the Latino Peace Officers Association, criticized Kunkle for banning the neck hold.
Mark Graham
George Aranda, head of the Latino Peace Officers Association, criticized Kunkle for banning the neck hold.

The more complex reality is that the challenges Kunkle faces are similar to Arlington, only magnified many times.

"I would argue that police work is the same everywhere as far as being the chief of police is concerned," says Alejandro del Carmen, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at UT-Arlington who has worked with Kunkle. "It's just the size of the department makes it very tough. Every department faces these racial issues we're talking about. But in Dallas, you've had a lot of very public battles, and that affects morale. But his time in Arlington shouldn't be discounted just because it's smaller."

It all starts with how he deals with the unions, as officers who wouldn't otherwise speak publicly on racial issues will complain bitterly to their organization's president. Glenn White has been vice president or president of the DPA since the late '80s. He's the man the media go to when they want the DPA's position--which, fairly or not, is seen as the white officer's stance. (White didn't return repeated calls for this story.)

The Latino Peace Officers Association sided with the DPA's criticism of the chief's ban on neck holds. Despite some minority groups that championed the move, LPOA President George Aranda said it took away an effective tool for officers. And the LPOA is hopeful the chief will address some issues specific to their group, such as eliminating or revising the academic phone tests that determine whether an officer is bilingual.

"You call the college, and the professor gives you the exam over the phone," explains Richard Perez, vice president of the LPOA. "You have to speak to them in Spanish. But it's a very formal, very proper type of Spanish. And most of our kids speak Spanish, but not very proper. They can do the job, though, and communicate with people on the street. They still provide the service--the average guy can't do that--and even in somewhat broken Spanish they're understood and they help out other officers. But they're not getting paid for it." (Officers can make as much as $100 a month extra if certified as bilingual.)

"But overall, having experienced the chiefs prior to him, he comes across as honest and sincere and hardworking. We were lucky to get him. And we think he'll be responsive to our needs."

If officers think Kunkle is through using Arlington as a measuring stick, though, they'd better get over it. Because he shows no signs of ignoring his successful history there just to calm the critics. For example, he says the next round of testing for promotions won't be until next year, and he hasn't decided how best to balance the written and interview portions. Even though he says "the assessment center will be re-evaluated," he doesn't sound like a man who's going to do away with that method altogether. He mentions instead that in Arlington, there was no written exam for lieutenant, only subjective testing. He says by that point, officers had already demonstrated their basic knowledge of police work, so he values problem-solving exercises as ways to judge the best applicant.

Which would of course lead to more charges of racial equalization with every officer of color promoted. "What I've tried to do in Arlington," he says, "was take every advantage to try to diversify the work force. And it's what I'll do here."

Chief Click warns that even if Kunkle's intentions square with the associations' requests, he'd best tell it to them in a manner they'll hear. Even if it means leaving Arlington out of it.

"If internal employee groups don't like what you say, they're at the city council or out in the community complaining. They're out stirring the pot. And it becomes very personal. The worst thing you can call someone is a racist. And they will call you that if the numbers or your actions aren't just what they want."

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