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Bolton's blues

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Peter Calvin

Randy and Sandy Magg's retirement party was not supposed to be controversial. The husband and wife, both police officers, had logged a combined 50 years of public service, and to honor them, their bosses at the Dallas Police Department planned a party for the first week in April.

At the department's pistol range in southwest Dallas, about 40 people guzzled punch and munched cake. The Maggs received plaques. Randy's colleagues pooled their money and bought the avid golfer a driver. Sandy was given a gift coupon.

Then police Chief Terrell Bolton arrived.

Only a week earlier, Bolton vacillated when a reporter pressed him about whether he would support efforts by police unions to lobby City Hall for raises. (Pay for Dallas officers starts at $28,575 -- 20 to 40 percent lower than what's offered in surrounding suburbs.) Declining to say whether he had recommended to the city manager that his officers get raises, Bolton told a Dallas Morning News reporter, "It involves a bigger picture. You still have to pick up trash in the city. You still have to do code enforcement. And as police chief and as a manager in this city, you have to support the city manager in helping him carry out those mandates." After taking flak for what some saw as a wishy-washy comment, the chief tried to redeem himself at the Maggs' party.

To Bolton, appearing at a retirement party for two of his officers would seem as natural and expected as stuffing his gun into his holster. "He wouldn't have missed it for the world," says Sgt. Herbert Ashford, whom the chief recently transferred to an administrative post in personnel. Bolton, Ashford recalls, mentioned at the party something about supporting a pay raise, but that was not the purpose of his visit.

Yet even something as simple as showing up at a retirement party can provide ammunition for Bolton's many detractors, who closely watch the new chief's every move and quickly pounce when they see him make what they believe -- fairly or not -- is a misstep.

"He crashes the party, and then he gives a 15-minute lecture about how he is behind the pay raise," grumbles Roy Honeycutt, an outspoken member of the Citizens Police Review Board, a panel of civilians who oversee the cops.

Dallas' first African-American police chief, Bolton took office with the enthusiastic support of the majority of the city council and City Manager Ted Benavides, but still it seems he cannot avoid strife, thanks in part to an ambitious agenda to clean house and reinvigorate the department. In his first seven months on the job, he has executed those plans swiftly and with little attention to the political side effects, making him a lightning rod for critics inside and outside the department.

"He came into a difficult situation because of expectations, and he went after it like a bull in a china shop," says Peter Lesser, a criminal defense lawyer who has represented and opposed cops and served on the Citizens Police Review Board.

"He has sent a very clear message. He's in charge," says Glenn White, president of the Dallas Police Association, the city's largest officer union, representing 2,500 of the department's 2,800 officers. "People just can't figure out why he's doing what he's doing."

Change always exacts a cost, and Bolton took over a job held by Ben Click, a well-liked chief who led the department during relatively stable times. "Anytime you succeed someone who is a legend, you are going to run into some criticism," says city council member John Loza, a Bolton supporter who chairs the council's public safety committee. "He succeeded a very popular police chief."

And any new chief who shook things up as Bolton did would hear complaints.

On a Saturday in late October, one month after he started, Bolton recast his command staff by demoting four assistant chiefs and two deputies, five of whom have subsequently sued the city, claiming that their civil service rights were violated. In February, Bolton ordered 120 of the department's 550 detectives back on patrol.

Donna Blumer, the lone city council member to criticize Bolton publicly these days, suspects Bolton's age -- he's 41 -- factors into the furor he creates. "My grade for him is mixed," she says. "He has created public relations problems for the department. Demoting all the chiefs -- that was a little heavy-handed. As a result, we have lawsuits. I think that was a direct result of his youth."

Bolton argues that his early management moves, rather than the rash acts of a newcomer, are a rational response to a top-heavy police bureaucracy. When he came into office, Bolton notes, the number of patrol officers answering calls for help had declined in most of the previous five years. In 1999, some 1,026 officers out of 2,800 in the department were responding directly to calls as part of their jobs -- 27 percent less than in 1995. The others handled administrative chores or investigations.

 

"We kept losing people from the front line," Bolton says. "The problem was that we just kept going down, down, down, and crime started going up. Response time started going up. That's what we were trying to address."

Yet some department veterans contend that he is not just re-engineering the department to be more effective. They say Bolton disregarded expertise in the department and, worse still, did so to settle scores.

"I think he came and targeted people who had investigated him or his friends," says Robert Gorsky, a lawyer representing several of the demoted deputy and assistant chiefs.

"We were all ready to get behind this guy," says one veteran detective who, like many of the officers interviewed for this story, did not want his name published for fear of retribution. "Nobody expected this to happen. None of us knew he had this racial chip on his shoulder."

The question of race invariably rises when discussing Bolton's tumultuous tenure. "My reaction is," says Lesser, "'Would you guys be complaining so much if he were white?'" Loza says he hopes that's not the case, but "in some quarters, I'm afraid it is."

Whether it's his forceful, blunt personality, his youth, his agenda, or his race, Bolton unquestionably inspires ill will in some law enforcement circles. On his first day in office, Bolton made what might be regarded as a simple housekeeping change. He called for 38 intelligence officers who had been housed at local FBI headquarters so they could cooperate on federal investigations to return to city offices. The officers complained. Danny Defenbaugh, the FBI's special agent in charge in Dallas, spoke out publicly against the move, and later his agents went scurrying for court files about Bolton's divorce from his first wife and an ensuing paternity battle. Defenbaugh says the file-gathering was part of a routine security check and downplays any friction between his agency and the chief. "The chief still has good representation on the joint terrorism task force," he says. Nevertheless, department veterans speculated that the chief was paying back the FBI for its role in Bolton's subpoena to appear before a grand jury investigating former city council member Al Lipscomb.

Whatever the motives of his critics, Bolton must quell the complaints if he wants his message about a more responsive police department to be heard. Faced with a decreasing number of job applicants, he also must improve the environment so that people want to work for the department -- and work hard enough to a put a dent in crime.

For a chief who cannot even hand out retirement plaques without prompting criticism and who has switched public information officers three times in less than seven months, getting his message to the public won't be easy. But Bolton, the youngest son of a one-eyed, dirt-poor junk dealer in rural Mississippi, should not be underestimated.

"I'm my own person," Bolton says. "I speak my own mind, and I do what I think is right. That doesn't mean I'm perfect. But...I've always tried to treat people fairly. The fact [is] that I made decisions based on what I thought was right for the department. Why can't it rest with that?"

Bolton may be honest, forthright, and fair, but the job of leading the Dallas Police Department requires political astuteness and a thick skin as well. Does Bolton possess either? "He's got to get used to it," says a close professional confidant of the chief's. "He's police chief now, and they are going to pick on him."


Terrell Bolton wore a beatific smile as he obediently walked through the iron-barred gates of a mock jail cell last month. Fund-raisers for the Special Olympics had built the play prison outside the Spaghetti Warehouse in the West End to collect donations. During an "Arrestathon," benefactors were expected to pledge money to get the police chief and other civic leaders out of "jail."

The chief, a genial man with facial features too cherubic to be described as conventionally handsome, hammed it up, tugging on the bars of his cell.

"When you're in jail, don't you shake the bars?" he asked the amused crowd.

"Don't play like you don't know," an officer teased.

"That was fun," Bolton said an hour later from behind his massive desk on the fifth floor of the downtown police headquarters. "Those are the moments that people really don't get to see."

 

In some respects, Bolton's personal story couldn't be more inspiring, and Bolton knows that as police chief he serves as a role model. He was the youngest son in a family of five boys and three girls. He grew up in Richton, a town of 2,105 in western Mississippi that has a police department of eight officers, counting the one police dog.

In November, at one of Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price's weekly luncheons for civic-minded African-Americans, Bolton repeated a story he likes to tell about his birth. His mother told him he came out in a hurry. "She didn't think I was coming so fast, so she looked up at my father and she said, 'I can't come up with a name.'" It was the white doctor who named him Terrell. "I am the product of people that worked together," he said. "I will be that way always."

Bolton's father, who died two decades ago, suffered from sight loss and other health problems. He collected scrap iron and resold it, while Bolton's mother, who had a heart condition, cleaned homes. Richton old-timers recall that though the Boltons were poor, their children were well behaved. "Their daddy believed in what was right, and they obeyed their daddy," says Robert Cowart, a former Richton police officer. "A lot of the better people in town helped the boys because they liked them so much. The white people took them like they were their own."

Four of the five Bolton boys would enter law enforcement. Bolton's oldest brother was an Atlanta cop until he retired recently and took a job managing security at a small Georgia college. The next oldest serves on a police force in a Boston suburb, and a third brother works for the sheriff in Forrest County, Mississippi. One of Bolton's sisters is a psychologist for Dallas schools, and the other two are medical company executives on the East Coast.

Bolton gives his parents credit for his siblings' rise. "You don't have to have a Ph.D. to be a good parent," he says. "Mom and Dad did what they could to make sure we got a proper education. We have a very close-knit family."

Even among his accomplished siblings, Bolton stood out as ambitious. The president of his high school student council, Bolton graduated with a bachelor's degree in criminal science from Jackson State University. He worked as a summer intern for the Jackson, Mississippi, police. After his internship, he spent a year at the Richton Police Department before applying for a position in Dallas at age 21. (In the mid-'90s, Bolton turned down an offer to serve as Jackson's chief, citing his career prospects here.)

In 1980, when Bolton started with the Dallas police, the Texas Department of Public Safety still used the word "Negro" instead of black or African-American. The word is rubber-stamped over Bolton's original fingerprint documentation.

Bolton says segregation played a larger role in his older siblings' lives -- his oldest brother was 12 years his senior -- than it did in his. "I have so much respect for them," he says of his brothers. "They were able to rise above where we were and the conditions we were in, and they didn't make excuses for themselves. And they did it in a rewarding profession where you can help people."

At his home, he says, race was never the focus. "My parents never talked hate," he says. "It was love and rise above circumstances and try to do better in life. We were too busy to hate. When I sit here, there were a lot of Anglos that helped me. You're glued to people, believe it or not, not by the color of your skin but by your heart."

As chief, Bolton has given opportunities and demotions to both white and black officers. Among the assistant chiefs Bolton demoted were Robert Jackson, at the time the highest-ranking black officer other than the chief, and Manuel Vasquez, the highest-ranking Hispanic. The same day he announced their demotions, he promoted four women, three blacks, two Hispanics, and the department's first Asian-American chief-level officer.

For decades, however, the Dallas Police Department has had an undercurrent of racial tension. Several black officers have won large settlements from the city in recent months for discrimination claims, and last August, shortly before Bolton took office, the U.S. Department of Justice began investigating whether the department unfairly disciplined black officers. In that environment, many of Bolton's actions are viewed through a racial prism. Veteran white officers acknowledge that they report to each other how long and how often African-American leaders such as Price, the Rev. Zan Holmes, and Thomas Glover, president of the Texas Peace Officers Association, are in the chief's office. (The TPOA union represents the majority of the department's black officers.) "We often wonder who is running the department, and whose hand is farther up whose ass," gripes one veteran white officer.

 

Council member Blumer echoes those sentiments, without the vulgarity. Last February, Blumer tried and failed to bring Bolton before the council for a grilling about his role with Lipscomb and topless club owner Nick Rizos, who told federal investigators that in 1992 he had paid Lipscomb $7,700 to get police out of his club. At Rizos' request, Lipscomb allegedly arranged a meeting between Rizos and a high-ranking black officer. Both Bolton and then-Assistant Chief Jackson fit the description, though when FBI agents came to the department's integrity unit last year looking for evidence about the meeting, they had no name.

Jackson talked to the FBI agents without a lawyer, but Bolton hired his own attorney. "I think I did the prudent thing. There is nothing wrong with getting legal advice," Bolton says. But at police headquarters, Bolton's unwillingness to go to the FBI without counsel prompted chatter among high-level officers in the department. Former Chief Click described Bolton as being in a "tizzy."

Ultimately, Bolton named another officer, Lt. John Sullivan, who has confirmed that he met with Lipscomb and Rizos. Bolton says he didn't send Sullivan to the meeting and does not know precisely what happened there. "I have no recollection of him coming to me, telling me that he went to the meeting. I definitely did not send him," Bolton told the city council's public safety committee in late February. The chief proposed establishing a policy to document all requests from council members to the police department.

At that same public safety committee meeting, Blumer pressed to bring Bolton before the full council for further questioning, but she had little support. "I felt he probably had some information," Blumer says. "I wanted to get to the bottom of it." But Loza and other committee members opposed the move, and audience members at the meeting booed Blumer. "The room was packed with what looked like, by the way they were dressed, a bunch of black ministers," she recalls.

The suspicion and inflammatory rhetoric also run deep on the other side. "The white community is sending [Chief Bolton] the message that although he is chief, they are in charge," Commissioner Price wrote in a press release issued last October in response to Defenbaugh's complaints. The TPOA's Glover, state Sen. Royce West, and Zan Holmes all stood beside Price at a press conference. "We will not return to a time when black Dallas police officers could not arrest or chastise white people," Price wrote.

"Too many people look at him as the first black police chief," Glover says. "He is the chief of police. Excellence is not a question of color. Anything he does, people have questions about, because this is a society that looks at African-Americans in a position of management like that."

Bolton is circumspect when asked whether he thinks race has played a role in the controversy his tenure has generated. "All that I can say is the things that have happened, I've never seen before," he says, smiling broadly.

In 1980, Bolton's rookie year, less than 13 percent of the DPD's officers were black. At the end of the decade, the department agreed to launch an affirmative-action hiring campaign as part of a settlement for discrimination claims filed in federal court. Today, 21 percent of the department's officers are black.

Bolton did not particularly distinguish himself as a rookie cop, and his family life when he first came to Dallas was troubled -- as the FBI must have discovered when it sought copies of his divorce records in early February.

In the September before he moved to Dallas, Bolton wed his 17-year-old sweetheart. Five months later, she gave birth to their first son, Terrell Daniel Bolton, now a 20-year-old college student. The marriage didn't survive much longer. By August 1981, his wife, who now goes by the name Cassandra Bolton Jackson, returned to Mississippi, and Bolton filed for divorce. The court granted the divorce a few months later, stipulating that he pay $125 a month in child support. His ex-wife also sought support for a second son, though Bolton denies he is the father. A genetic test report from October 1990 filed with the court, however, stated that there was a 99.97 percent chance that Bolton was the father, though the case was dismissed from the Dallas courts in Bolton's favor, and he says the test was never verified. (A spokesman for GeneScreen, which performed the test, says no independent verification is necessary, though he was not familiar with Bolton's case.)

"I have no hard feelings toward him. I wish him the best," says his ex-wife, who has raised two sons in Mississippi while returning to school for advanced degrees in education. "I've decided to give it to God, and some things didn't work out."

 

Bolton's personnel file, delivered to the Dallas Observer in response to a public information request, had all references to his family blacked out. He would say only of his first marriage: "All of those issues were resolved...If he was my son, don't you think I would have done differently?"

While his first marriage was dissolving, Bolton's police field trainer rated him below average. The supervisor noted that Bolton needed directions repeated often, more clarity in his writing, and better road skills. Another sergeant gave him a written reprimand for sleeping on the job. Although his early days were rocky, Bolton earned commendations soon enough. Four years after joining the department, he was promoted to sergeant. In 1987, the police chief put him in charge of the security force protecting the city's buildings. It was a civilian job that took him off the department's roster for two years.

When Bolton returned to the department in November 1988, then-Chief Mack Vines made him a deputy chief. During the short-lived Vines era, almost a dozen other officers leapfrogged over more experienced colleagues, and Bolton, like the others, was resented because of his speedy ascent. "He quit as a sergeant and came back as a chief," gripes one veteran cop. Ironically, many of the deputy chiefs whom Bolton demoted were officers whom Vines had promoted.


When Ben Click announced in August 1999 that he would retire, speculation started immediately that Bolton, who had been promoted to assistant chief in October 1991, would succeed him. As assistant chief, Bolton oversaw the department's patrol officers and was popular with the ranks. He also worked to set up neighborhood crime-watch groups, proving that he works well with the community. Perhaps most significant, he had allies at City Hall. According to one high-ranking police veteran, Bolton made an effort to bond with Charles Daniels, an African-American assistant city manager who oversees the police department and was influential in determining its next chief. Bolton lunched often with Daniels, and within weeks of Click's announcement, Daniels and City Manager Ted Benavides tapped Bolton for the job.

Benavides testified at a deposition in one of the demoted assistant chief's cases that he didn't even formally interview Bolton. Daniels says Benavides wanted "no lapse in leadership," and he wanted "someone from the inside." So the city manager considered two other candidates: Vasquez and Jackson. Both men were demoted by Bolton and have left the department.

According to his testimony, Benavides did speak to Bolton about his plans for the department. During those early talks, Benavides learned Bolton intended to do some house cleaning. "He felt he had too many executive officers," Benavides said.

"We did what any police chief that came from the inside would have done," Bolton says. "When you come from the inside, you don't really have to depend on the people you inherit because you know the organization...I wanted to restore Dallas as a premier department in the country. You have to pick people that share your vision. I'm going to be judged by what happens."

By mid-October, only a few weeks after he had moved into office, Bolton met with Benavides and City Attorney Madeleine Johnson to share his proposal: He wanted to remove six high-level chiefs and their staff of seven administrative sergeants, seven secretaries, and one administrative assistant.

The confidential memo that Bolton distributed suggests that he expected a fight. Bolton noted that the $850,000 in pay the city saved from the demotions could be used to hire a lawyer to defend the moves. Bolton also quoted the section of the city charter that could provide legal justification for removing his executive staff without giving any cause for the demotions.

The paragraph, a mumbo-jumbo of legal language, is vague, lawyers on both sides of the matter agree. "It's hard to tell what it says," says Gorsky, who represents several of the demoted assistant chiefs. Click has said that he believed he needed cause before he demoted an assistant chief.

But Bolton told lawyers for one of the assistant chiefs that it was not just one paragraph that persuaded him he had a right to replace them with his own team. Various sections of the city charter and the civil service code convinced him that he could freely choose his own command staff, Bolton said.

"When you look at what we did, what we did early on, that was the best way to do it," Bolton says. "You get that over with. To constantly go through personnel issues over a period -- anybody that you talk to in private business will tell you if you are going to make changes, you make them up front. You get it behind you."

 

For many, Bolton's argument makes sense -- why drag out the unpleasantness? "Every new chief and head of a corporation wants people who are 100 percent behind him," says former Citizens Police Review Board member Lesser. "They don't want back-stabbers."

But Bolton doesn't work for a private corporation. He faces a civil service code, which has traditionally protected employees from firings and demotions without cause.

"It was just devastating," says one veteran officer. "The width and breadth was unbelievable. I think he planned this for a long time."

Within a matter of days after the demotions, the assistant chiefs met to swap strategies and try to figure out why they had been targeted. They came up with various theories. Two of the veterans thought the chief had singled them out because they had publicly defended Willard Rollins, whom Click demoted after the controversial assistant executive chief was involved in an alleged hit-and-run accident in 1999. It was no secret in the department that Rollins and Bolton didn't like each other. As Click's two top assistants overseeing different branches of the department, they had competed for resources. Others speculated that Bolton already showed his displeasure with the FBI about the Lipscomb affair by removing Dallas police officers from the federal agency's quarters, and they believed they were being punished for the same events. Bolton demoted Jackson, who had talked to the FBI without a lawyer. He also demoted Assistant Chief Marlin Price, who had been in charge of the integrity unit when the FBI contacted the unit about Rizos' claims.

Although the demoted officers' claims that Bolton was being spiteful are speculative, the veterans make a more persuasive case that Bolton squelched open discussion within the department. When a new boss fires his top staff, whomever he promotes gets the message pretty quickly about who's boss. The new command staff "saw what happened with the others," Dallas Police Association President Glenn White says. "They were demoted when they told the truth."

Bolton denies that he has stifled internal debate. "Everybody comes in here and tells me what I need to know," he says. "One thing about me, I accept criticism. I accept dissent, and in the end we work out. But, at the end of the day -- guess what -- we all have to be a team. I don't think anyone we appointed will tell that they were upset that they had to go through that process."

But Bolton does seem to need to demonstrate that he's the boss, and he's not always subtle. "I am the police chief at the end of the day," Bolton says. "The buck stops with me. I'm surprised everyone would go talk to people about what we're doing. When you have a new police chief, you expect changes. One thing about me that people will find out, I am going to be more involved. I am going to be a hands-on person. I know the city quite well, and I know the department very well. As time goes on, I think people will understand my goal here is to serve the city."

Veterans say Bolton's desire to put his mark on the department is clear even from small changes he made to his workplace. The chief had his car windows darkened and added a second level of security on the executive floor of the downtown headquarters building, leading gossips to swap tales about the cost and appearance of such moves. Bolton laughs about the changes. His predecessor Click first built the security desk; he just never staffed it. "You think about some of the things that occurred around here...Let's get real. I had to do some things to enhance security," Bolton says. (His interview with the Observer took place a few days after the public information officer conceded to reporters that a detective had tracked down a suspected serial rapist who was working as a contract employee cleaning police headquarters. Moments before the man was arrested with a gun in his pocket, he had been near the chief's office with a mop and bucket.)

Bolton darkened his car windows to avoid accidents. "When I drive the freeway, people look and they see me and in their excitement, you know, 'There goes Chief Bolton,' I almost get creamed. I almost creamed into [them] waving back."

Bolton also has requested that all of his deputy chiefs sign loyalty oaths. "I understand I serve in this appointed position and can be removed from this position at the sole discretion of the Chief of Police," the document reads.

 

"This is the way I wanted to do it, and I have no knowledge of anybody else operating or doing it their way...This is the way Terrell Bolton did it," Bolton told a lawyer in a deposition taken in March when asked about the oaths.

Now he waves off the question. "That's more legalistic than anything else," the chief says.

Bolton has employed other tactics to communicate his desire for team players. One department veteran says he was offered a promotion, but he asked if he could think about the prospect for a day. When he called back and said he wanted the job, the chief told him he was too late. "If you didn't know you wanted it immediately, then you're not on our team," the detective recalled Bolton telling him.


In fairness to Bolton, one can understand why he would want to shake things up. The department Bolton inherited from Click was by no measure in perfect working order. ("I don't need to get in any kind of contest with him," Click says when asked about Bolton's characterizations. "The department [worked] well. Only time will tell whether changes are necessary.")

But Bolton points out that the department's response time statistics were drifting in the wrong direction. In the mid-'80s, the department lowered its response time to 12 minutes on average. By September 1999, when Bolton took over, the average was 26 minutes, though, notably, the response time for high-priority emergencies hovered around 8 minutes throughout the '90s.

"If we want to talk about my six months' tenure in office, let's talk about what really happened and the reality not so much about how many right turns or left turns it took to get there. Let's talk about what happened at the end of the trip," Bolton says.

Since Bolton became chief, the average response time has dropped 17 percent -- to 21.70 minutes. Response times for emergencies are virtually unchanged, and analysts say the average times are not necessarily accurate measures of a department's performance. They hinge greatly on arbitrary factors -- for instance, when an officer decides to press a button in his patrol car signaling his arrival. But the figures do set a tone about the department's relationship with a community, and Bolton contends the victim in auto theft who gets service within 30 minutes feels more secure even if the timely response doesn't help him get his car back.

To improve response times, Bolton made what he concedes was a tough decision to transfer 120 detectives to patrol. "Do you know, many of those people that I had to put back on the front line were my friends, people that I sat right next to at the police academy?" he says. "But my job is to make this city as safe as I can make it. We all have to sacrifice."

The high-level chiefs who had been demoted a few months before Bolton announced the massive transfers concede that rank-and-file officers did not shed many tears when the chiefs lost their posts. But the veterans do believe that lower-ranking officers will suffer from the full impact of Bolton's decision to transfer detectives en masse to patrol. Already, detectives have begun complaining. "You can't rob Peter to pay Paul," says one.

Bolton chose which detectives to transfer based on seniority. Although they get to keep their ranks, they will lose some bonuses and could face less desirable working hours. Meanwhile, some patrol officers could get new shifts themselves to accommodate the changes.

The detective contends that fewer cases will be solved because of manpower shortages among the investigators, though so far that hasn't happened. The DPD clears around 45 percent of its cases -- considerably above the national average of 21 percent, though differences in the way the numbers are compiled may skew those figures.

But department veterans argue that Bolton, who never worked as a detective, used a blunt and rudimentary approach to address the imbalance between the patrol and investigative units. "The chief came in and didn't really investigate," says another detective. "He didn't really know what he needed to do. Some of these jobs people had been working for years. These senior guys are insulted more than anything else. They feel that the chief, when he came in, didn't take the time to understand. It's just from his lack of experience."

As one veteran detective puts it, "Bolton assumed that every unit was the same...If the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem you have is a nail."

Transferring the detectives also will harm the department's shrinking pool of applicants, Bolton's critics say. In the mid-'80s, some 1,800 people annually applied to become Dallas police officers. Last year, with Dallas salaries having failed to keep pace with competing departments, 855 applied.

 

In March, the Civil Service Board told Bolton that it would reduce the minimum college-credit requirements for applicants. Now prospective cops can use "developmental courses" or the remedial high-school English offerings at community colleges to meet the 45-credit requirement, but with Bolton's massive transfer of detectives, the DPA's White contends, even fewer applicants will surface. The reason: Dallas will offer no fast track for promotion. "They will have no opportunity for advancement," White says. "They will just be stuck." The 120 detectives Bolton transferred to patrol would, by their seniority rights, have dibs on any openings in investigative units for the foreseeable future.

Given the overall tight labor market, however, it's unfair to pin any further drop in the applicant pool on Bolton. Moreover, the Dallas Police Department had a surprisingly low attrition rate of 4.6 percent in the past year, thanks in part to its pension plan.

"Our pension plan is so good, you would have to be an idiot to leave," concedes one veteran.

When they retire, Dallas officers can earn 94 percent of their highest salary and obtain yearly cost-of-living increases. If they opt at the age of 50 to enter a special program, they can start drawing their pension while they are still working, literally doubling their salary.

But a lucrative pension is a distant concept for a young rookie. The pay-hike advocates note that the attrition rate for younger cops, those with less than five years on the force, has tripled in the past three years to 8 percent, a disconcerting trend.


When he first became entangled in discussions last month about raises for his officers, Bolton reminded reporters that the lucrative pension plan should play a significant role in the issue.

But the new chief, who during an interview frequently looks over a small yellow pad where he keeps points he wants to stress, bungled attempts to get out his message about that or any of the other subtle distinctions he was trying to make.

In public and private meetings, Bolton appeared to contradict himself -- as though he were fighting for his troops while sticking by city council members such as Loza who want the cops to settle a pay referendum lawsuit before he agrees to dish out substantive salary increases. The police associations have sued the city over a 1979 voter referendum that tied salaries for rank-and-file police and firefighters to the amounts paid administrators. Ignored for two decades, the clause now may mean that public safety officers are due as much as $800 million in back pay.

Perhaps more than any other issue, the pay question reveals Bolton's inexperience as a politician.

"Cops are frustrated. They've had enough," White said during the first week of April. At the time, the union president was on a campaign to get Bolton to support raises publicly. Bolton had come by his office earlier in the year and made noises about offering his backing, White claimed. "'Things will be good. Things will be good,'" White recalled Bolton telling him. "Well, I'm waiting."

The next day's Morning News reported that the union wanted raises, and the police chief was waffling. TPOA's Glover says the chief told him that the Morning News reporters, interviewing Bolton for another story, had caught him off guard when they queried him about the pay issue. That was the reason, Glover says, for the chief's initial hesitation.

Within a week of that story, Bolton posted a memo to all employees. "This update is in response to misinformation concerning my position on a pay raise for members of the department. I am in favor of a pay increase," Bolton wrote.

But the damage had been done. "He is a little too late," complained one veteran officer.

Bolton told the Observer that he used such caution in his initial public comments about pay because he cannot single-handedly alter salaries. He needs cooperation from the city council. "If I could write a check tomorrow and grant everybody a pay increase, don't you think I would do that?" he says. "But the reality is...it takes more than a police chief to make that happen."

On April 13, however, Bolton apparently thought for a few hours that he could, in fact, single-handedly offer a raise. White says the chief came to his office that morning and said he could deliver a 10 percent increase. "He had apparently had a come-to-Jesus meeting," White says. Within a few hours of his visit with the chief, however, Bolton called White. The chief sounded as if he was in the middle of a meeting, but he told White, "The offer was off the table." Later, White says, Charles Daniels called and told him, "The chief was trying to do the right thing. He just had acted prematurely."

 

The pay raise debate throws into relief how difficult it is for Bolton to communicate his strategy to his officers over the din of his critics. Without effective communication, his bold plans for the department could fail.

"It is absolutely necessary," former Chief Click says, "that [Bolton] understand politics, both with a big 'P' and a little 'p.'"


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