The City Just Spent $125,000 to Help Spend $1 Million on Police Station Security

Workers hadn’t even patched the bullet holes in Dallas police headquarters, put there by crazed shooter James Boulware, when City Hall promised to better secure the building. Police Chief David Brown called it “critical work.”
After three months, the city allocated $1 million from the 2015-16 budget for police department-wide security improvements. And Wednesday, three months after approving the sum and nearly seven after the shooting, the City Council gave the Public Works Department $125,000 — to hire a consultant to tell them how to spend the money. “The City Council today only approved a contract to hire a consultant to assess what security improvements are needed,” says Richard Hill, the city’s senior public information officer. “The $1 million was what was allocated in the city’s budget for security improvements. This contract will help steer the spending of that allocation.”

The local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police remains unimpressed with the additional money being spent and the pace of security enhancements. “The mayor said this was an emergency,” says FOP President Richard Todd. “It’s been seven months. I’d hate to see how slow they move with something that wasn’t urgent.”

The item can be found in the PDF here, agenda item 28 on page 6. It allocates money to study security enhancements at headquarters and seven substations. The firm it hired, Gensler, is based in San Francisco.

One of the ironies of the study is that the DPD conducts similar risk assessments for businesses. In the security game this expertise is called crime prevention through environmental design. “We have officers who are trained in CPTED who can tell us how to secure these buildings,” Todd says. “The city is just wasting money.”

In the meantime, Todd says, small stations are dealing with security conditions that are more lax than headquarters. Citizens can pull into police station parking lots, approach doorways and generally spook armed officers getting ready for work. And police are on edge, rattled by the rare but high-profile ambushes reported across the country. “We’re targets,” he says. “And if we’re vulnerable, the city is vulnerable.”

Officers have been pulled from street duty to guard stations. “We may have spent a million in overtime over the past seven months,” Todd says. “That’s 48 officers a day guarding perimeters, instead of someone just building a fence.”

It is not as easy as just building a fence. The debate in Dallas is at the crossroads of two opposing trends in law enforcement — making police stations harder targets for spree shooters and making them more accessible to the public. “It’s all about a good balance,” says Michael McKeon, an architect and vice president of Connecticut-based Kaestle Boos Associates Inc. “You can’t build something like Fort Knox and expect people to be comfortable coming there.”

Kaestle Boos has been designing police stations and schools since the mid-1960s. McKeon says that very few older buildings get retrofit for security because of excessive costs, as will be happening here in Dallas. His usual bread-and-butter comes from new construction. Installing heavy, bullet resistant glass and placing ballistic materials behind existing drywall are expensive procedures.

But McKeon also knows that in his business, violent incidents and improving economic conditions create clients. “Obviously this moved to the forefront after 9/11,” he tells the Observer. “It was pushed to the background during the depression. But now we see pent-up demand.”

A nut with a gun and homemade explosives clearly sparked the demand in Dallas, and incidents in Paris and California have seemingly increased the pressure to act. That action has come in the form of a consultant's report. “City staff will be discussing these issues with DPD over the next few weeks,” Hill says. ”Once a report is received from the consultant we will have a better idea of the scope of the work and a timeline.”

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Joe Pappalardo is the former editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Joe Pappalardo