In the wake of the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins tonight will hold a 7 p.m. town hall meeting at St. Paul United Methodist Church, where he says he hopes to start a conversation about police shootings to avoid in Dallas what has happened in Missouri. We suspect he'll take his own car.
On Friday, Watkins announced the formation of a new two-person team, dubbed the Civil Rights Unit, which will investigate deadly shootings by officers independently from the police department. Watkins has been talking about this for months but has been waiting to secure funding, which now looks likely to come.
The unit, consisting of an investigator and a prosecutor, will be on call 24/7 and will go to the crime scene instead of waiting for the case from the department. Watkins acknowledged that the police unions would be against such a unit, but he hopes they'll come around.
"We have just as much investigative and subpoena power as (the police) do," Watkins told Unfair Park Friday afternoon. He added that the unit will give the DA's office and the police department more credibility with the public.
Robert Arredondo, the president of the Dallas Latino Peace Officers Association, said on Friday he disagreed with the creation of the unit.
"It's a slap in the face," he told us. "Basically, (the DA's office is) questing our integrity." See also: - Why Are Dallas' Police Officers So Pissed? - The Voice of the Dallas Police Department Has Some Things to Say About Violence In Ferguson
Last week, two officers shot and killed two suspects in the span of about 18 hours, but those aren't the only examples of times when officers have used deadly force. Chief David Brown recently wrote an op-ed for The Dallas Morning News in which he describes the department's reaction to the police shooting at Dixon Circle in summer 2012. He writes that, essentially, openness on behalf of the police department quelled a potential riot:
Tragically, what is happening in Ferguson won't be the last story of its kind. What I think is worth noting from the Dixon Circle incident is what we tried to do as quickly as possible:
We immediately informed the public in a news conference about all the facts as we knew them. We assured the public that complete and thorough investigation would be done.
We released the name of the person and the name of the officer.
We described the investigative process and the fact that a Dallas County grand jury would ultimately decide whether the shooting was justified.
We answered every question we could -- both from residents and from the media.
Perhaps most important, we drew down the number of officers that were in the neighborhood.
Maj. Max Geron, who heads the department's media relations unit, is an advocate for institutional openness because he believes it develops trust between the community and police officers. He told Unfair Park last week that the Ferguson Police Department made several mistakes in regards to the Michael Brown shooting, such as not immediately releasing the name of the officer who shot the teenager.
"We're not claiming the police aren't doing their job," Watkins said Friday. He hopes the naysayers will come to realize the DA's office is actually protecting police officers, not getting in their way. However, he said, "These things (police shootings) are happening more often than not."
Send your story tips to the author, Sky Chadde.