At the End of His Last Day As Chief, David Brown Gets a VP Debate Shoutout

Officially, David Brown's six-year tenure as Dallas Police Chief ended at 5 p.m. on Tuesday. Brown left the department two and a half weeks earlier than originally announced to meet a pension cut-off.

His last day went off without much fanfare.

Of course, there were TV cameras at Jack Evans police headquarters before dawn, waiting for the chief to arrive, but Brown managed to stay out of the limelight, just as he has since speaking out about his retirement at a Sept. 8 press conference.  As the day wore on, accolades for Brown rolled in from across the city and the state. As one would expect, many of them focused on Brown's leadership in the aftermath of Micah Johnson's July 7 ambush that killed five Dallas cops. John Cornyn, Ted Cruz' colleague in the Senate, shared a speech he gave on the Senate floor last week praising Brown for bringing the city of Dallas together. Perhaps the biggest plaudit Brown received on Tuesday, however, came at the end of the day, when he was mentioned by name as part of a question about the relationship between American residents and police during the vice presidential debate.

"After the Dallas police shooting, Police Chief David Brown said, quote, 'We're asking cops to do too much in this country. Every societal failure we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, not enough drug addiction funding, schools fail, let's give it to the cops,'" moderator Elaine Quijano asked. "Do we ask too much of police officers in this country? And how would you specifically address the chief's concerns?" 

Both vice-presidential nominees, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine and Indiana Governor Mike Pence agreed that officers are asked to do too much and emphasized the importance of community policing, a policy that Brown pushed more than any other during his time in charge.

Brown believed that implementing policies that focused on de-escalating potentially dangerous interactions between residents and cops is the best way to build trust between Dallas police officers and the communities they patrol. "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 at the Sept. 8 press conference. "Community policing has made us a lot safer. Presenting yourself as an occupying force [doesn't work]."

The best example during Brown's tenure of the benefits of deescalation is Brown himself showing up and stopping a near riot in Dixon Circle during the summer of 2012. An officer, Brian Rowden, chased and shot James Harper. Rumors built that Rowden shot Harper in the back until Brown showed up 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," Brown said. "Without my holding a press conference by the next news cycle, it's likely that we would've been Ferguson before Ferguson was Ferguson." 

Following Harper's death, Brown changed the department's foot chase policy and the way in which officer fights with suspects are documented.

Like many of Brown's policy initiatives, the moves were unloved by the Dallas Police Association. DPA President Ron Pinkston accused Brown of taking away necessary tools from officers and exposing them to unnecessary discipline.

It was a theme that Pinkston would hammer Brown on until nearly the end: Officer unfriendly policies hurt morale which in turn increased the DPD's attrition rate, which left officers more vulnerable and decreased morale even more.

This year, Pinkston and the other police unions explicitly and repeatedly called for Brown's resignation, but that all stopped on July 7. Brown became untouchable, something he said made him uncomfortable at his last press conference, which helped him decide it was time to leave.

Brown has announced almost nothing about his future plans, except for the fact that he will give a commencement speech at his alma mater, UT-Austin, in May.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young