Dallas police Chief Terrell Bolton has a simple answer for those who've questioned whether he had any advance knowledge of the massive fake-drug scandal that enveloped his narcotics unit in late 2001: He knew nothing.
In the case, which became national news, a Dallas police informant set up unsuspecting day laborers and car mechanics with fake cocaine. The chief is on record saying he played absolutely no role in his department's decisions, even though the informant was paid the unprecedented sum of $210,000 for his efforts.
At a council briefing last March, Bolton said he knew nothing was amiss until more than three and a half months after his department and the Dallas County District Attorney's Office learned the drugs at issue were, in fact, fake. The chief pegged the date he first heard about it as "right before Christmas" 2001--more than two and half months after a clear pattern of bad cases had become evident.
At the March briefing, only Mayor Laura Miller, a former investigative reporter, pressed Bolton for more.
Going straight at the leadership the chief has shown as head of the 3,000-officer department, the mayor questioned why it took Bolton so long to figure out what was going on in his own department. One fake-drug case was uncovered in September 2001, Miller noted, and she couldn't understand why the chief was out of the loop.
"...Since it was the largest bust in the history of the department," Miller said, "I wonder why you weren't told right away...It's hard for me to see why in November, when the DA comes to us and says we've got nine cases with problems, why you were not told for another month about what was going on. Can you address that?"
After being warned by City Attorney Madeleine Johnson that such issues will be critical in the lawsuits filed against the city by the dozens of fake-drug victims, Bolton responded: "I think the public should understand that these things were being investigated. Our rules and our general orders require supervisors to take action and ask for an investigation...People asked for an investigation even before I was told, and they fulfilled their responsibility."
The exchange between Miller and Bolton escaped coverage in the daily media. But it demonstrates why the fake-drug fiasco is capital-T trouble for the chief. In the biggest scandal to hit the department in recent memory, Bolton either presided over a disaster--or he was out to lunch.
The largest of the bad busts--the seizure of 176 pounds of "cocaine" in the parking lot of an Oak Cliff Jack in the Box on August 7, 2001--was important enough to the chief that he listed it among the highlights in his annual job review.
Until recently, with the chief bunkered down and seldom talking to the press, and key police officials having signed pledges not to discuss their roles publicly, there was little more to learn about his out-of-the-loop defense. But a lawyer who has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of 13 of the informant's victims amended it recently to say that Bolton was brought up to speed on the fake-drug problem precisely when the mayor would have expected.
"Chief Bolton had actual knowledge of these problems after meeting with [Deputy Chief John] Martinez in October 2001," the suit alleges. Attorney Don Tittle says his information comes from a well-placed source whose identity he wouldn't disclose.
"I was told Bolton just blew it off," Tittle says. In court papers, Bolton and Martinez deny the meeting took place.
Whatever the chief says about what he knew and when, there are plenty of people in Dallas who no longer believe him, even if his bosses, from City Manager Ted Benavides to the majority of the Dallas City Council, appear to be giving him every benefit of the doubt.
The chief's loss of credibility unites a legion of critics in law enforcement, political and media circles who have watched him try to explain away problems before, from his role in a 1993 sex-club scandal to his demotion of a slew of seasoned commanders when he took charge in late 1999. Influential people in and out of the department say they simply don't believe Bolton when he speaks. District Attorney Bill Hill reportedly is among them.
At a time when one would expect fire to be raining down on Dallas' first black police chief, he has enjoyed the protection of a flame-retardant suit with two pairs of pants: race politics and Dallas' fear of race politics. Bolton has deflected criticism with stubborn denials, a dose of one-on-one political charm and a media strategy that for more than a year has kept him largely out of view.
The Dallas Police Department under Terrell Bolton is burdened by terrible morale, spotty management and simmering resentments caused by mass demotions and some bizarre key hires, but those issues are seldom heard in public.
Anyone who dares criticize Bolton runs straight into a single-minded bloc of black politicians and activists working overtime to watch his back. Turn up the heat on the chief, and a few sparks--pickets at one's house, or harsh allegations of racism--are certain to blow back.
About 200 white middle-class homeowners showed up at Walnut Hill Recreation Center one evening last month to talk about things they were sure someone at Dallas City Hall should be able to fix. As they filed to the microphone and described their concerns about treacherous intersections, loud apartments and aggressive panhandlers, one began to wonder why so many of Dallas' black leaders had dedicated nearly three hours to attend such an intensely local affair.
Why had people like activists Lee Alcorn and Roy Williams, police union head Thomas Glover and Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill turned up at a meeting where residents wanted to talk about misplaced traffic cones on Midway Road?
They were there, it turns out, because the chief was among the city officials invited to speak. "I thought it was a setup...an ambush," says Glover, president of the predominantly black Texas Peace Officers Association.
After being introduced by Mitch Rasansky, the council member who hosted the town hall meeting, Don Hill charmed the audience with a story about how he happened to drop in because his wife had never been to such an event. "That was part of it. That wasn't all of it," Hill said later. "I had some concern that this could have been hostile for the chief."
As expected, a handful of residents brought up several of Bolton's past and current troubles, including the narcotics scandal. But most seemed more interested in pesky problems in their daily lives: hookers near the freeway, or the broken crosswalk button at the corner of Forest Lane and Preston Road.
As Bolton fielded their questions, he came across as personable and upbeat, a can-do executive in a big blue suit. "You'll get those extra patrols starting tonight!" he assured one woman who complained that the local patrol division supervisors told her they couldn't spare a man to deal with rising crime on her street.
The glum-faced Alcorn and the other Bolton supporters began to relax in their seats when they saw how well things were going.
Tim Dickey, a longtime neighborhood leader in the Bachman Lake area, was in the audience, sitting next to a man he described as a "crusty-old-fart, don't-raise-my-taxes, I-hate-the-city type...Even he was saying, 'I'm starting to like this guy.'" But Dickey was not so easily sold.
"Politics is very important to Terrell Bolton," says Dickey, who has known him since the early 1990s, when he was in charge of the Northwest patrol division. "He's pretty good in that setting." But when the folding chairs are put away, Dickey sees a department that is anything but upbeat and can-do.
"In Northwest we have a deputy chief who Bolton triple-promoted [June Kim-Edwards] and put in the job. What we need is a seasoned veteran with proven results," he says. "The last time I complained about gang activity, Northwest referred me to the gang unit. I found out they only work weekdays, and when I got them, they sent me back to Northwest. It's like the department has completely given up."
Remarkably, not an insignificant number of police officers agree.
"The troops don't have much motivation to do anything," says Michael Walton, who in May took over as the first black president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 588, which has about 400 members from DPD. "Everyone--black, white, Hispanic, male, female, dog, cow--wanted to see Bolton come in and do well. But it's slowly slipped away. It's a lost cause. The troops don't believe him. All I hear from my members is, 'When is he gonna leave so we can get someone else in here?'"
Even Bolton, a 22-year department veteran whom City Manager Benavides promoted in October 1999 without an interview or a background check, calls his first years in the job a "rocky start." He has been beset by controversies large and small, from his inability to dispel questions about his role in a 1993 strip-club scandal to his mass demotion of nine seasoned commanders, to the fake-drug fiasco.
While those issues have been heavily publicized, rank-and-file officers point to Bolton initiatives within the department as poor planning at best, or public relations stunts at worst. Within months after taking office, for instance, the chief announced he would be moving 120 officers from investigative and other units back to patrol the streets. Three months later, his office was touting instant crime-reduction results in the daily newspaper. What went unreported--and everyone in the department came to find out--was that fewer than 90 officers were moved, and nearly everyone was back at his or her old job within six months.
The chief declined through his personal spokeswoman to be interviewed.
Nothing Bolton has said or done has shaken confidence in him as thoroughly as the drug scandal and what he said about it when it went public a year ago.
Several defense lawyers had tipped off WFAA-Channel 8 that the drugs their clients were alleged to have sold were nothing but finely ground gypsum. Channel 8 aired the first fake-drug story on its noon report on New Year's Eve.
Hours later Bolton called a news conference. For the event, Bolton's staff borrowed a cache of dangerous-looking semiautomatic rifles from the department's property room. The military-style weapons may have been good props, but they had absolutely nothing to do with the bogus busts.
Standing next to cellophane-wrapped bricks of the fake cocaine, Bolton told reporters his department had recently come across a rash of drug dealers trading in simulated drugs.
"We have learned that there has been a significant increase in the amount of counterfeit drugs confiscated since September 11 as a result of the tightening of our borders, and I can tell you, it's getting harder and harder to find cocaine in the streets of Dallas," said the chief, the four stars on his collar glistening in the TV lights.
With the help of an informant, Bolton said, his narcotics unit was busy busting people trying to pass off fake drugs and was saving the lives of drug users who might be hurt or killed using bad "junk."
In perhaps the biggest misstatement of the entire 15-minute appearance, Bolton said confidently: "You have to remember the intent of people who were involved in this stuff. The intent was to peddle an illegal drug for an illegal profit."
Bolton allowed that his department had opened an internal investigation into the matter, a probe he later said was initiated on November 30, 2001. But in the context of his other statements, he made the investigation sound like a formality, a precaution, because he had no reason to believe anything was wrong with the busts of these dangerous fake-drug peddlers.
The chief expressed confidence in the integrity of the police informant, who he said had passed a polygraph test. The two narcotics detectives who made the questionable busts were still on the job. The chief declined to identify any of the men involved, saying it would compromise their ongoing work. The officers were later identified as Mark DeLaPaz, a senior corporal, and Eddie Herrera; the informant was Enrique Alonso, a convicted felon who went to work for the cops to work off his cases.
At the time of Bolton's news conference, many of the Mexican nationals who had been arrested were still in jail, some going on their fifth or six month behind bars.
Since then--in pieces that no doubt are confusing to all but the most dedicated follower of the story--a basic outline of what was really going on has come to light, and it had nothing to do with September 11 or the ebb and flow of drugs across international borders.
According to Dallas County prosecutors, between September and the end of December 2001, they conducted lab tests of drugs confiscated in 14 of DeLaPaz and Herrera's busts. Seven contained no drugs. Six contained slight traces of drugs mixed in with large quantities of gypsum. One small batch turned out to be real cocaine.
By the middle of November, with a clear pattern forming, the district attorney's office stopped moving forward on most cases investigated by the pair. By the end of the month, the district attorney had dismissed 10 cases.
Around that time, according to two sources who have spoken with District Attorney Bill Hill, the district attorney's office asked DPD to hand over information that would have allowed them to identify all of the informant's cases. It took weeks to get anyone at the police department to respond and nearly two months to get a reply, the sources say.
Hill's office confirms it received the information on January 11--well after the matter was public and on its way to becoming a national story. Within five days, prosecutors began using it to dismiss cases tainted by the involvement of the two officers, the now-discredited Alonso and several friends he had hired to help him produce and plant the fake drugs.
Through his top assistant, Mike Carnes, Bill Hill declined to discuss his office's dealings with the police department in the fake-drug matter or comment on the veracity of the sources' accounts. "We have to get along with all the departments in our jurisdiction," Carnes said.
Nonetheless, the sources say Hill told them he became so disenchanted with Bolton over the drug debacle that he stopped speaking to the chief. "When it first broke, Bolton was coming out way ahead of him [Hill], like in that press conference," says one source, a longtime law enforcement professional. "Hill had no idea that the chief was about to make a statement, or what was going to be said. He was saying, 'Where is this coming from?' He was never consulted on any of that...It became pretty obvious to Hill he was getting hung out to dry."
While Hill went along with Bolton for a while, he broke away on January 18 when he asked the FBI to investigate.
Having the feds enter the picture was exactly what Bolton, who said he could handle the matter internally, did not want. He made the point by waiting a full week to suspend his own internal probe, which at that point--seven weeks in--hadn't gotten around to interviewing the two officers responsible for the questionable drug busts. (DeLaPaz's attorney, Bob Baskett, says his client and other narcotics officers had not been interviewed by the department when it suspended its internal probe.)
In a telling January 25 letter to then-acting U.S. Attorney Richard Stephens and Danny Defenbaugh, head of the FBI's Dallas office at the time, Bolton made it clear he was suspicious of the feds. He complained about possible leaks and the pace of FBI work. He also pointed his finger toward Bill Hill's office, urging the FBI to look at "actions of all members of the criminal justice system" and "all individuals involved in these cases." He even asked that defense attorneys be investigated--as if they had anything to do with throwing people in jail.
Tittle, the lawyer who is suing the department, says Bolton's December 31 news conference did much to misinform and confuse public perceptions, even to this day. "I talk to a lot of people about this, and to a man, they still think there were drug dealers out there selling flour or something," he says. "Bolton has never said these were innocent people."
Tittle says he is reasonably confident that the informant concocted the setups without the knowledge of the police in order to profit from the rewards. But the police department has a lot to explain, even if the officers had no knowledge of the dead-end scheme. "They're going to have to explain why their reports say 14 or 15 field tests done on the drugs came out positive in cases where there wasn't a trace of drugs," Tittle says. "That's the key to all of this. The tests. It's impossible to have that many false positives. The odds are infinitesimal," he says.
Arrest reports list as many as six officers conducting positive tests on drugs that later turned out to be devoid of illegal substances, he says. "Where there might have been trace amounts, you could see how that might happen. But these were cases with no drugs."
The chief's predecessor, Ben Click, says he has followed the fake-drug scandal from his home near Sedona, Arizona, and has been struck by a number of unusual things about the case.
"I've heard a lot about bad procedures. We had strict procedures in place," he says. "It's a matter of having the right people in place to follow them...Every police chief knows...if you're going to have problems, they're going to come in narcotics. It's the nature of the work, with the money and undercover stuff and the unreliable people you have to use. That's why I had someone in there [former Deputy Chief Willie Taylor, whom Bolton demoted] I knew could keep an eye out and spot the warning signs."
Second, Click says, in his entire career he had never heard of a snitch being paid $50,000 for a single bust, as happened here. "We didn't spend that much total in two or three years," he says. "These people usually work for a lot less."
Last, Click says, he is surprised the department was so resistant to an outside investigation. The best course a department can take when a major scandal erupts is to call in an independent third party to preserve organizational integrity and protect the rights and reputations of everyone involved.
Click called in the feds immediately when he learned that $50,000 in drug-buy money had gone missing from the police property room. The fact that the case was never solved "may be the biggest disappointment in my years there," he says.
Like a number of sources interviewed for this story, Click says Bolton and the DPD have not even begun to feel the effects of the drug matter. "There's the lawsuits and digging into what happened behind the scenes," he says.
Former U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins, who headed the Dallas office for eight years and is now in private practice, says it will take years for all the facts to come out about the department's internal workings. People who have been wrongfully jailed in other cities have brought similar federal civil-rights lawsuits, and some have resulted in seven- and eight-figure judgments and settlements. Typically, they are drawn-out legal battles that can outlast the careers of the main players, he says.
In the end, Coggins says, the main issue will be one of management. "How high up did it go? Did they immediately try to right the wrongs or was there an attempt to cover it up? If no corrective action was taken until the press gets wind of it, I think that would look bad to a jury."
Three and half months after fake drugs emerged and two days before Channel 8 began rolling tapes of innocent working-class Mexicans being loaded into squad cars, Terrell Bolton was in front of the cameras--on New Year's Eve.
"I don't know you can hold the informant responsible for the fact the drugs were poison versus real drugs," he said. Highlighting the great job his department was doing taking dangerous fake drugs off the streets, he said: "Keep it in mind. My concern right now is how much other stuff [fake drugs] do you have out there. This was a major seizure. I'd like to think it was a blessing for Dallas."
Whoppers like that have taken a toll on Bolton's reputation among the various law enforcement professionals who work for other agencies in North Texas. Many have close ties with the Dallas police.
At a retirement party last year for Danny Defenbaugh, the FBI veteran who butted heads with Bolton several times, a slide show lampooned the chief as "Darth Bolton," the Star Wars villain. It got a great laugh, say several sources who were at the party, which was heavily attended by local law officers.
It is difficult to know whether Bolton cares how he is perceived in the wider police universe. Once a month, chiefs from across the Dallas-Fort Worth area meet to discuss emergency preparedness, collective purchasing agreements, things, in the words of Highland Park Public Safety Director Darrell Fant, "that affect all of us." Dallas chiefs in the past have been regulars. Bolton never attends and only occasionally sends a deputy to stand in.
Manny Vasquez, a former DPD commander who now is in charge of security in the Dallas Public Schools, has never been able to get a meeting with Bolton, he says, even to discuss what he considers important school safety matters. In a two-page letter Vasquez wrote the chief in November 2000, a copy of which was obtained by the Dallas Observer, he detailed his unsuccessful attempts over a period of months to meet with Bolton to discuss issues such as juvenile crime and "most importantly the safety of school children as evidenced by tragic events all over the nation."
The district pays nearly $1 million to the city for officers in the schools and houses them in district office space. But Bolton has refused to share what the letter described as "detailed information relating to sexual offenses occurring on or near school district campuses" and barred school district police from using the city's pistol range.
"My purpose," Vasquez wrote, "was to establish an intelligence information flow to security personnel on our campuses to be on the look-out for sexual predators lurking near our school facilities and children...I can only pray a school child is not injured or abused by a suspect loitering near a school and previously identified by the DPD."
Vasquez, who declined to comment on the matter, later attempted to get the sex offender information from the department under the state open records law and again was refused. In the past, he wrote, DPD had a reputation "of leadership and cooperation" with smaller departments. Not anymore.
Former FBI man Danny Defenbaugh, who opened a private security business in Addison last year, said he does not care to recap the various run-ins he had with Bolton, because they are all in the public realm. "It's all out there...and he's still there," Defenbaugh quipped.
The two that have had the most lasting effects are the Caligula XXI strip-club affair, which emerged early in Bolton's second year, and his mass demotions of Click's top assistants, including everyone who was named as a contender for the chief's job.
In early 2001, after a jury in Amarillo found former Dallas city Councilman Al Lipscomb guilty of federal bribery charges, it came to light in court papers that a certain high-ranking black police official had ordered enforcement pared back at Caligula XXI, a strip club in the Bachman Lake area. The club's owners had paid Lipscomb $7,700 in cash for the favor, and he in turn went to the police official to get the job done.
In short order, Bolton's former secretary and a lieutenant came forward and said the unnamed official was Bolton, who at the time was in charge of the patrol division in that area. They provided records showing that was what they told the FBI when Defenbaugh's agents were investigating Lipscomb in 1998. At a council committee hearing in early 2001, Bolton fingered former Executive Assistant Chief Robert Jackson as the one who issued the orders, detailing how he, Jackson and Click were talking together when Jackson said it. Jackson and Click say that is untrue.
With four people contradicting the chief, several council members pressed for him to release records of his interviews with the FBI to clear the air. Bolton declined.
Former Councilwoman Donna Blumer, who, along with Miller, was the only council member who pressed to go beyond Bolton's version of events, says Bolton did his best to bury the truth in a storm of irrelevant details. "That's his strong suit," she says. "He just talks circles around the question and never says anything. He starts running his mouth off so long, he probably believes his own lies."
The affair gained Bolton a new cast of doubters, but he outlasted the issue at City Hall, where Benavides decided to let it drop.
Bolton's shock changes in the department's command staff left a deeper, more lasting mark.
"The major concern I hear most about the chief is his command positions. There are people there who just don't have a clue. They just don't," says Glenn White, a senior corporal and president of the department's largest union, the Dallas Police Association. "You look around some of the patrol stations and some of the different bureaus and wonder...they just don't get it."
On taking the job, Bolton pushed aside a roster of seasoned, high-ranking officers, including Doug Kowalski, a special events and tactical leader, and Jackson and Vasquez, both top candidates, to take over as chief. (The commanders later sued, and the city settled the cases for $5.6 million. Jackson and Taylor declined to settle, and their case is pending in a federal appeals court.)
In their place Bolton promoted far less experienced officers, several of whom were triple-promoted from the rank of sergeant, including one of Bolton's close friends, Deputy Chief Kyle Royster, who had twice failed the lieutenant's test.
Bolton's people have had mixed success in gaining the respect of the rank-and-file. "It's hard to work for people who you saw as having no ability at a lower rank achieve even midlevel rank, let alone putting stars on their collar," says one veteran sergeant.
Even one of Bolton's staunchest supporters says several of his key commanders are not working out.
"After you lose 11 games three years in a row, you begin to think the coach isn't the right match," says Glover of TPOA, which represents about 400 black officers in the department. "Some of these people have had three years to grow into their jobs, and they haven't." Bolton should begin reorganizing his staff for the good of his administration, he says.
That is about the only thing on which Glover and Bolton's critics agree. Beyond lies a gap so wide that perceptions are more powerful than facts. In the department, and beyond in city politics, it is impossible to talk with anyone about the city's first black police chief for very long before talk turns to race.
By the end of Ben Click's tenure in 1999, the Dallas Police Department looked like a smooth-running ship. Years of community policing initiatives and steady efforts to network with black and Hispanic leaders had all but eliminated the most obvious community tensions--and police shootings--of a decade earlier.
On the inside, though, it was roiling with racial complaints.
In December 1998, Glover and 41 other black officers filed a federal lawsuit accusing the department of racial disparity in discipline and promotions. The following year, just as Click was leaving, the U.S. Justice Department began to investigate the officers' complaints of disparate punishment. Although the feds are still conducting interviews three years later, black officers and political leaders are certain that the complaint had merit and that reform was necessary.
"The old ways of thinking, the old network that was in place during Click's tenure, led to the disparate discipline problem," says Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill, a former attorney for Glover's group who today chairs the key Public Safety Committee that oversees the DPD. "I worked for the [Texas Peace Officers Association] and saw firsthand the consistent termination and severe disciplinary actions being received by African-American officers."
In 1999, Bolton lined up support to become chief from influential council members such as Hill and Lipscomb, as well as Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, who has made a career out of supporting black officials in all corners of city government. Bolton made personnel his top priority.
When Bolton tossed out Click's commanders, the move seemed to defy racial patterns because he sent several senior minority officers packing. They differed from Bolton, though, in that they didn't share the view that the department was in the midst of a racial crisis.
"We were at a high state of professionalism," says Robert Jackson, now police chief of Killeen. "We had a wonderful group of commanders with command presence, and I think that led to DPD's success. It was recognized as being a top-notch department."
On personnel and other issues, Jackson, who is African-American, says, "I wasn't going to go blindly supporting John Wiley Price.
"Bolton was always having regular lunches with certain council members. He was constantly with Price. Price would get so upset with me he'd threaten protests at my house. [TPOA] was going to be there, too," he says.
Don Hill says Bolton's commanders do have a different view from Click's on the treatment of minority officers. "He brought a very significant change in the decision-makers, and as a result you are getting very different decisions. I think officers are getting a fairer shake. Most important, the guy on the top is more hands-on."
In his most recent performance review, covering 2001, Bolton listed diversifying the department as a page-one goal and underlined the fact that 62 percent of new hires during his tenure have been minorities or women. He broke down the numbers: 128 white males, 207 non-white males.
Jobs--who gets them, who holds them--are such a priority in Bolton's department that upper management gets involved in nearly every decision. "Right now it's transfers," says White, the union head. "You're supposed to apply and be selected off a list. The way they are running it, upper management steps in and says, 'We don't like any of those.' They fill the job with someone who didn't even apply." Rhonda Cates, a lawyer with White's group, says she is handling eight grievances on the matter and could end up filing suit.
A broad segment of black leaders in Dallas like Bolton and his diversity agenda. "There's an ownership of the chief by the African-American community," Hill says. "He's part of us. He came up through the ranks. He's the first one, and in our view he hasn't embarrassed us...He has an awful lot of proud kin."
And they are quick to rush to his defense.
Price, Alcorn and at least one member of the TPOA were among the throng who picketed Laura Miller's house in Kessler Park and hurled profanities at her in April 2001. Others have applied constant pressure on the media.
After Price and a group of protesters burned a stack of newspapers outside The Dallas Morning News in early 2001, an event it never reported, the daily backed off its aggressive news coverage of the chief, says one former News reporter. "There were calls to the editors all the time to ease off the chief. Reporters were reassigned," says the source, who continues to work in the media.
Meanwhile, the editorial page has given the chief a pass, writing virtually nothing about him in the past year--no editorial cartoons, no analysis of his words on New Year's Eve 2001. "When the daily paper goes silent on an issue, it just sort of goes away," says Tom Pauken, a businessman and former chairman of the state Republican Party.
Pauken sees the drug scandal as the clearest sign to date that the department is in disarray. "With the lack of leadership on the top, you have people going through the motions, tension in the rank-and-file, just a slow, steady deterioration of the quality of this department. If it's not addressed in the very near future, it's going to be very hard to fix."
Pauken and others who want Bolton removed have been disappointed that Miller has not led a charge to replace him, but there is only so much she can do in Dallas' weak mayor, weak council system.
"The city manager hires the police chief," Miller told Pauken during a KERA-Channel 13 interview in September when he brought up the chief's performance. "This city manager hired this police chief without an interview process...without input from most anyone. I think there's a lot that has transpired since then."
The mayor can express her frustrations, but it's clear she does not have the 10 votes it would take to pressure the city manager to make a change.
In September, in a vote that was overshadowed by the city's pressing budget shortage, Don Hill and other Bolton supporters were able to muster enough votes to protect two positions--with combined salary and benefits packages of $227,000--in the chief's office that Benavides had slated to eliminate. One was Bolton's $95,000-a-year personal spokeswoman, Janice Houston, whom Hill says is needed "to keep the chief out of the news."
"A vote to cut her was in many respects a vote to make the chief more vulnerable to media scrutiny and possibly to harm him," Hill says.
Miller, who called the vote "outrageous," could only find six other members on the 15-member council to support her effort to restore the city manager's cuts.
Several council members who occupy the middle ground between Bolton's vocal critics and hard-core loyalists--and who hold the balance of power--say they believe the chief is doing a passable job.
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If anything, when council members call, Bolton is attentive to their wishes. "I have the topless industry in my district, drag racing, you name it, and every time I call he's very responsive," says council member Ed Oakley.
Councilwoman Veletta Lill says she puts stock in crime statistics to judge the department. After spiking nearly 6 percent in 2001, the number of reported crimes in Dallas decreased slightly over the first six months of 2002. The U.S. Justice Department reports that major crime nationwide rose 2 percent in 2001, and 1.3 percent in the first six months of 2002. In Dallas last year, violent crime ebbed while property crimes rose. Meanwhile, the department's response times have remained around eight minutes for emergency calls.
"It's sort of mixed," says Lill, who supports the chief's efforts to diversify the department and rates his performance "a B-minus, C-plus."
Lill and others say discussion about the chief at City Hall has died down in the past nine months because the fake-drug matter remains under federal investigation. If it turns out badly, pressure on the department and Bolton are certain to mount. "I'm for letting due process run its course," Lill says. "If something is found, there will be an outcry. There's a lot of public concern over this. People are outraged."