Ron Pinkston, the Dallas Police Association president, says the results caught even him off guard. According to a survey the DPA commissioned, 80 percent of the nearly 1300 members who responded to the online questionnaire rated the Dallas Police Department's morale as either "low" or the "lowest it's ever been."
"I knew it was low," Pinkston said last week. "I didn't realize it was so devastatingly low."
According to Pinkston, part of the reason it's so low is because the department is not allowing police officers to do their jobs. The survey suggests that most of the officers who responded feel the same way -- 71 percent "believe they are not allowed to perform police duties that the citizens of Dallas expect."
A main complaint among several, Pinkston said, concerns the policy related to chasing down suspects on foot. There are several things an officer must consider before she or he starts to chase. According to the policy, they include if the officer is alone, if the suspects outnumber the police and if "the dangers of pursuing in inclement weather, darkness, or reduced visibility conditions" exist.
Also, an officer should discontinue a foot chase if "the pursuing officer loses more than momentary visual contact with the suspect and becomes unsure of the suspect(s) whereabouts or continued direction of travel." Pinkston said this means an officer should stop chasing if a suspect turns a corner.
"We should be catching bad guys without a second thought," Pinkston said, "because we get hurt when we have second thoughts."
The document (which you can see in full below) states these criteria are in place for officer and public safety. Pinkston said it prevents officers from doing the job the public expects them to do.
A police spokesman wrote in an email that Chief Brown tasked an assistant chief to work with the four unions on "updating the foot pursuit policy. They have met once and tossed around suggestions."
He added: "Chief Brown has neither seen the survey nor the results but he has continued to work hard with all of the associations and is willing to do whatever he can to contribute to improving the morale of officers -- especially in the areas of policies which seem to be a major concern."
Pinkston said he's compiling a list of suggestions of departmental changes, including one to the foot-pursuit policy, and will send it to Chief Brown in the upcoming weeks. He said he hopes the changes will be implemented and that they will improve the low morale.
Richard Todd, the Dallas Fraternal Order of Police president, cited a poor workplace environment as a reason for low morale. As an example, he told the story of one patrol officer who was investigated for going AWOL.
Struggling through a divorce and suffering from a migraine, the officer called in to take the day off but didn't directly speak to a supervisor. Instead, he told a person at the front desk who wrote a note, a common and acceptable practice, Todd said. When a supervisor found out he hadn't directly notified a supervisor, he was cited for the failure and suspended for three days without pay, Todd said. The officer also didn't have enough time off for a whole day.
There are about 3,400 Dallas police officers, and 2,600 belong to the DPA (officers can join multiple unions). The officers who responded to the union's survey represent about 37 percent of the department. Pinkston said he was "very satisfied" with that number. "I don't think you get this great of a turnout if people aren't so upset," he said. (You can see the full survey below.)
Cletus Judge, the Black Police Association of Greater Dallas president, had not seen the results of the DPA's survey when asked about them Thursday afternoon. But, in response to our question about the department's allegedly low morale, he said, "A lot of officers aren't upset -- but they're concerned about the lack of movement."
The majority of officers, he said, are assigned to patrol, meaning they're the ones that respond if you call 911. When summer crime heats up, Judge said, it's hard for officers to transfer out of patrol, and the inability to transfer brings down morale. Judge said his union will survey its own members soon.
Three officers spoke to Unfair Park on the condition of anonymity. They feared, if their names were printed, there would be retribution in the form of transfers to undesirable units, to the overnight shift, or to a patrol area far away from their house. All three said they did not believe Chief David Brown had their backs.
One officer, who has been at the department for nearly 20 years, said he would be "scared" to be back on patrol right now. If he made a mistake in a situation on the street where a split-second decision was required, the officer felt that Chief Brown would not be on his side.
Another officer used the incident at Dixon Street two summers ago, when an officer shot a convicted drug dealer after a foot-chase and three fights, as an example. Brown didn't side with the police officer, he said, and was more interested in appeasing the people in the neighborhood. The new foot-chase policy was implemented because of this incident.
"If you don't have to deal with all the crud," the officer said, "it's a great job."
He added: "Are we high-priced report-takers or police officers?"
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