Dallas Police Chief U. Reneé Hall took a pounding from the City Council's Public Safety Committee on Tuesday as some members blasted her leadership and the quality of her department's after-action report on its response to recent police brutality protests.
The department and the Office of Community Police Oversight are investigating 50 complaints of police use of excessive force during the May 29-June 1 protests, but details about those cases weren't included in the DPD's report. Instead, the online video meeting, which included criticism of the department's lack of transparency, began with a closed session with City Attorney Chris Caso.
Committee Chairman Adam McGough said the response to the protests showed a failure of leadership, and the amount of time DPD took to deliver the report was unacceptable.
Defending the report, Hall repeatedly referred to events like the Sandy Hook school shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing and the Pulse Nightclub shooting, pointing out that the after-action reports for those deadly attacks took months to complete.
Councilmember Cara Mendelsohn said the Dallas protests did not compare to the crimes Hall cited.
Hall said she would give her department's handling of the protests and rioting a C-minus, and the department is ready to own up to mistakes. But councilmember Adam Bazaldua called the after-action report underwhelming, biased, too little and too late. The report says much about what happened to officers and not enough about what happened to Dallas residents, Bazaldua said.
One of the most contentious topics at the meeting was the mass detainment made on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge on June 1.
Councilmembers Mendelsohn and Bazaldua didn’t believe DPD's account of how protesters got on the bridge that night. Hall maintains officers blocked the on-ramp and told protesters they'd be arrested if they marched onto the bridge.
Bazaldua, Mendelsohn and their colleague Omar Narvaez told Hall that they have seen multiple videos that contradict this account. The Observer also captured video that night that seems to show protesters were not warned away from the bridge, but Hall said the department has video footage that supports DPD's account.
Hall faced further criticism for her original claim that tear gas was not used on the bridge. She's since corrected herself, and the report details the use of gas. At the explosive June 5 City Council meeting following the protests, Hall told the council that media reports that gas was used were incorrect.
According to the report, the chief called the event commander and ordered her officers to not use C.S. gas, commonly referred to as "tear gas." The gas was deployed before the chief's call, the report says, and its use wasn't confirmed until four days after the bridge protest.
Councilmember David Blewett said Hall and the department should have been more vocal when they found out that gas had in fact been used. “That presentation about tear gas sat out there publicly for a long time, and I think we need to do more to clear that up,” Blewett said. He said falsehoods that were left to linger for so long have clouded the idea of transparency.
Members of 17 different law enforcement agencies responded to the protests in Dallas. Councilmember Paula Blackmon asked Hall who had managed DPD's partnering agencies during the protests. Hall said DPD took the lead, but lack of proper equipment impeded their ability to communicate in real time.
The report seemed to indicate a general disregard for leadership, council member Chad West said, describing what took place in DPD’s command structure as a mutiny.
In the report, the department claims that there were conflicts due to the traditional command system, which does not allow higher-ranking officers to receive direction from lower-ranking officers.
West said the report takes a defensive posture, and he believes DPD should have been more neutral in analyzing its response.
By the end of the meeting, several councilmembers said they've lost trust in Hall and DPD's leadership. Councilmember Carolyn King Arnold shared her colleagues' concerns for protesters but said she felt Hall's actions were being judged unfairly because she is a Black woman.
"There's a need for us to support peaceful protests. There's a need to protect the lives of peaceful protesters. There's also a need to make sure those officers are protected," King said.
Bazaldua said the narrative in DPD's report acts to further the divide between law enforcement and the communities they're supposed to serve.
The scrutiny over the report comes amid local budget talks for the next fiscal year and continued calls to defund the police. Thanks to federal COVID-19 relief funds, DPD's budget will actually increase next year, according to the city manager's proposed budget.
However, after Gov. Greg Abbott announced a proposal to punish cities that defund its police, cutting DPD's budget may be even more unlikely. The proposed legislation would freeze property tax revenue of any Texas city that defunds its police department.
“If we have police brutality, we don't need fewer police. We need less police brutality, and so we need to take action, whether it be as a Legislature or in police departments or whatever the case may be,” Abbott said at a press conference in Fort Worth about his proposal.
Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, Republican North Texas lawmakers and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price joined Abbott at the press conference and all said they would support his efforts.
Hall accepted some criticisms given throughout the meeting and dismissed others, but said overall "we have work to do."
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