Can David Brown Survive As The Dallas Chief of Police Despite Being The Father Of A Cop Killer?

Everybody is on such pins and needles, walking on eggshells at City Hall about the police chief thing. You know they've gone over to the weird side when they appoint a special funeral procession prosecutor.

City Hall has handed off the controversy over the cortege for Police Chief David Brown's son to the same lawyer who was hired to investigate the city's "fake drugs" scandal in 2004. It's nuts.

So please allow me to play my own part. If everyone else is being super-decorous, considerate, dignified and self-composed about it, then surely it's time for me to be embarrassing. Hey. I live to serve.

Ever since the triple tragedy in which Chief Brown's PCP-addled son shot a stranger and a police officer, then was shot to death himself by police, the blogs and the daily paper have been rattling on about whether the newly appointed police chief can ever come back from leave and inspire morale in his troops.

Two things: Who says the chief's big challenge at the moment is inspiring morale? And who says leadership is about being loved?

I've been talking all week to people who know the Dallas Police Department well and know this situation well. They spoke to me off the record because they were being decorous and dignified and knew I wouldn't be. Somebody's got to be embarrassing.

I picked up a big consensus out there: Warm fuzziness may not be at all what this department especially needs right now. A certain amount of warm fuzziness never hurts, but this department also needs some ass-kicking.

We still have a lot of spoiled-brat arrogance and lousy work ethic and whining going on, left over from the bad old days before David Kunkle became chief in 2004. And nothing illustrates this more clearly than the strident calls for heads to roll over the damn funeral procession thing.

An assistant chief and a deputy chief who were riding in the procession for the chief's son ordered Dallas motorcycle police to provide traffic control. Maybe it was a bad call. It was a funeral for a cop-killer.

But here's the problem. It was also the funeral of the son of the newly appointed chief of police. Life gets complicated.

Now Terence Hart, a former federal prosecutor in the city's massive real-estate scandals of the 1980s and one of two lawyers who helped straighten out the fake-drugs scandal, has been appointed to investigate the matter of who ordered whom to do what for the procession.

Let's leave that one for the moment and come back to the question of whether David Brown, on leave since the June 20 shootings, can be an effective chief.

Brown, the people I spoke with agreed, is a tough guy, smart but self-contained, without the coterie of good-old-boy buddies in the department that tend to get chiefs in trouble. Generally speaking a chief needs more buddies in the department like he needs more girlfriends. Not.

As terrible as the tragedy of his son's actions may be, there is nothing in the tragedy itself to stop Brown from doing what some people think needs doing.

The Dallas Police Department is built around a solid core of professional and un-corruptible officers with a history of soldiering on through thick and thin. But around that core is a cadre of slackers and malingerers who think the world owes them a living because they walk down dark alleys at night.

Former Chief David Kunkle, with David Brown as his chief assistant and hammer, did a good job bringing discipline to the malingerers. And not by kissing and hugging them. As one observer of the department put it to me, "The rank and file don't always need to be inspired by the chief. There needs to be an element of fear in there, too."

Brown can do fear. He has earned a reputation over the years for an aloof toughness that sometimes trends into abrasiveness and for a serious introspective quality that sometimes goes broody. People who have worked with him call him temperamental. Some people who grew up with him in South Oak Cliff respect him, have pride in his accomplishments but don't especially like him.

Sounds more and more like a police chief to me. The job, after all, is not game-show host.

But the job can also be 10 times harder on the chief than he is on it. And that is where I hear some real concern about Brown and his reentry into leadership.

I wrote on our blog, Unfair Park, last week that I thought it was terrible to blame this man for what his 27-year-old son did. Anonymous commenters—some of whom I suspect were cops—wrote back saying it's easy for a non-cop to tell cops whom to forgive in a cop-killing. Good point. Let's assume there is truth that dwells between these extremes.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

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