Soon to be Former Dallas Police Chief David Brown's Victory Lap

David Brown, at his retirement press conference Thursday.
David Brown, at his retirement press conference Thursday.
Dallas Police Department

Dallas Police Chief David Brown's first public statement since announcing his retirement last week was a tour of his time on top of one of the biggest police departments in the United States.

He listed all the hits and most of the misses: the July 7 police killings downtown, Dixon Circle, community policing, officer pay. Brown was funny, even a little charming, taking to the lectern at Jack Evans police headquarters in a stylish black suit rather than his customary police uniform.

"There are at least two big questions [that have come up since the announcement]," Brown began. "One: Why are you retiring? And two: What are you going to do next?"

Brown tried to answer the first question by pointing to his 33 years as a member of DPD. It was just time, he said, to retire. It wasn't the events that have happened this summer, he stressed, that brought on the decision. He would've quit a long time ago if he was that susceptible to the stresses of the job, Brown said. He's just accomplished what's he's set out to over his six years as chief.

"Really, as a police chief, you want to quit every day at the end of the shift," Brown said. "You really do. There's something that happens, some rookie does something, some veteran does something that makes you want to say 'I just quit.'"

The chief spoke specifically about the summer of 2012 in Dixon Circle. That July 24, Dallas Police received a call reporting a kidnapping that hadn't actually happened from the southern Dallas neighborhood — the call was reportedly just one gang making trouble for another. When police showed up to the house about which the call was made, four men scattered, with one grabbing a handgun from a table in the house. Officer Brian Rowden chased James Harper, and the two eventually began to struggle. During the fight, Harper reached for something in his pocket, according to Rowden, and Rowden shot him. Harper, it would turn out, was unarmed. Rumors emerged that Harper had been shot in the back, and the neighborhood came close to rioting. Brown quickly dispelled the rumors as untrue and calmed the situation.

"I think [Dixon Circle] was the most significant thing that had happened to the department in decades. We had a near riot, we had a pre-Ferguson event. Without my holding a press conference by the next news cycle, it's likely that we would've been Ferguson before Ferguson was Ferguson."

After Harper's death Brown changed the department's foot chase policy and the way cases in which officers get in fights with resisting suspects are documented, setting the tone for the community policing reforms that he would institute throughout the rest of his tenure.

DPD officer-involved shootings have gone down in each year since 2012, seemingly showing the fruits of Brown's emphasis on de-escalation and transparency with regard to officer-involved shootings. In talking about community policing Thursday, Brown used a phrase familiar to anyone with knowledge of the police reform movement.

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"The evidence is pretty clear that enforcement only and arresting your way out of crime has not worked in this country. Incarcerating a lot of people has not worked in this country as far as keeping us safer," Brown said. "Community policing has made us a lot safer. Presenting yourself as an occupying force [doesn't work]."

Brown refused to answer any questions about what his professional future might hold, simply saying "that's between me and my baby" — referring to his wife — whenever he was asked. He did admit that he'll consult with the city manager about hiring his replacement and that he hopes that the new chief will follow up on his reforms. Still, he said, while he'd be there to take calls from Dallas' next police chief, he wouldn't be making calls to the chief himself.

Brown walked off the stage to a photo montage and Stevie Wonder's "As," the same song he quoted in his speech at the interfaith memorial following the July 7 shootings. His last day on the job is Oct. 22.


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