We all have that certain little what-the bell that rings in our heads when things don’t add up. What-the bells must have been ringing all over town last week when people saw the news story saying that the new Dallas chief of police, U. Renee Hall, slapped her boyfriend eight years ago.
C’mon. That’s a story? Really? No, c’mon. That’s it? She slapped her boyfriend? Eight years ago? And the guy told somebody about it? Maybe that’s a story, but the original slap?
Not that a slap can’t be a big story. A slap is a big story if it’s 1943, you’re Lt. Gen. George S. Patton and you slap two shell-shocked soldiers during the Sicily campaign of World War II. But your boyfriend?
WFAA-TV (Channel 8) thought it was a BIG, BIG story. The station even had comment from Mayor Mike Rawlings. Rawlings made a national splash a few years ago by coming out against domestic violence. So in this case, he said we can’t have a “double standard.”
Of course we have a double standard. We sure as hell taught our son there was a double standard. We taught him about that when he was 2 years old. They can hit you. You can’t hit them. You’re a boy. We don’t care if a girl comes at you with a baseball bat. Get out the room, kid. Boys cannot hit girls, even if girls hit boys. It's a big double standard. It's called THE standard.
Hall told the city manager about it when he hired her. She didn’t hide it. But now you and I are learning all the details. We learn on TV that she slapped her former boyfriend when she found out he was being unfaithful. Hey! Stop with that! I don’t want to know that stuff!
Give me a break. I don’t want to know about some dude being unfaithful eight years ago to the woman who is now my chief of police. I can hear stuff like that without leaving the block.
And as far as ancient history goes, let me tell you something: I am only sitting here, fully employed, a member of the tax-paying middle class, writing this story for you because there was no Facebook when I was young. If there had been Facebook back then, along with today’s public gotcha standard for moral purity, I guess about now I’d be parking cars for a living under a fake name.
So what’s going on? How did this story ever get ginned up in the first place? Well, that’s what your what-the bell is for. When the what-the bell goes off and you find yourself looking at a TV news story that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, it means something else is going on.
Think how hard somebody had to work to dig this up. All those lonely nights in a hotel room in Detroit, wandering around the police station by day, asking people if they had anything on U. Renee Hall. Think how disappointed you would be when the only thing you were able to dig up was that she slapped her boyfriend eight years ago.
Now you’re on the plane back to Dallas, all depressed and mopey, trying to think if you even do anything with a story that weak. Hey, waaait a minute! What about Channel 8? Aren’t they the ones who did that story about the guy having his toes gnawed off by a rat and they had a big photo on TV of the rat? Yeah! And then later there was a story in the Observer saying court testimony showed that the guy was never bitten and the rat came from a pet store. Channel 8 will do the story about the chief slapping her boyfriend eight years ago! They’ll do anything!
But what’s really going on here? A weak 8-year-old gossip story like this — no criminal charges, no nothing, just one slap — doesn’t just pop up out of the blue. TV stations do not assign reporters full time to find out if anybody ever slapped anybody. Someone made this happen. Now we can probably start making some sense of things.
On the surface, Hall has been the target of very little negative news coverage since assuming the post last September. Jamie Thompson, my favorite cop reporter, did what I thought was a masterful profile of Hall for D Magazine last May, and after it was published, there was some kind of kerfuffle about a photo of Hall holding a handgun in a posture some people took as too flamboyant.
In the picture, Hall was at a range, and as far as I could tell from the photo, she was holding the gun the way people are taught to hold handguns at ranges when not firing. But what do I know?
The part of Thompson’s story that dealt with Hall and guns was extremely interesting, I thought. Hall collects handguns and can outshoot many beat cops at the range. That tells me something about what kind of cop she is. She’s a cop-cop, not a political cop. I guess. I’ve never met her.
In the meantime, I am aware of a certain drumbeat of dissent and tension both in the department and in the larger community over issues that have not yet risen to the level of daily news coverage, especially in connection with her approach to vice enforcement.
One of the first things Hall did when she got here was blow up the vice squad. She virtually shut it down and called in an outside consultant to analyze it.
Hall has remained firmly shut-mouth about why. The only bit of explanation to leak is that supposedly she found out something bad in the way cash from gambling raids was being accounted. That could be part of it, but I strongly suspect there is much more.
Generally speaking, the Dallas Police Department has a reputation for being a clean department. But nobody’s perfect.
You may remember that in December, two Dallas police officers were federally indicted for lying to FBI agents investigating narcotics and money-laundering charges related to a Dallas nightclub where the officers worked as off-duty security. You may not remember that this issue — off-duty Dallas cops getting too close to crooked nightclub operators — has been a recurring problem in the department for decades.
We should not be shocked, shocked if we find out eventually that Hall, when she showed up fresh from Detroit, walked in on a few things in the department that she had no intention of owning. But the tension I have been hearing about does not come directly from that.
It’s more a matter of what she did after she shut down vice. Hall has directed other parts of the department, especially narcotics, to take over certain vice enforcement, and guess what? They don’t want to. Especially prostitution.
Busting hookers is a very specialized kind of police work that requires a certain kind of steely mental discipline. You are spending your days and nights in this really depressing moral junk-pile; you have to keep your head screwed on right, and you have a lot of law and regulation to be aware of and stick to. Many cops just are not up for it and do not want to do it.
The evidence is that they aren’t doing it. You may have seen some news reports lately — I have — saying that some Dallas neighborhoods are really chafing under what they see as an onslaught of street hookers and a lack of enforcement. People in those areas just want the hookers to go away. They don’t care where.
But I also have had conversations with deeply concerned people involved in rehabilitation programs for prostitutes. They tell me Dallas is becoming almost a free zone and a haven for prostitutes, a place where the hookers know they won’t get busted.
The rehabilitation people don’t exactly want all of the hookers sent to jail, but they tell me that the threat of jail usually is what it takes to motivate a prostitute to change her or his life. When there is no threat, when the cops look away and the money is easy, the hookers tend to keep doing what they have always done.
There is even a story going around — it’s street gossip, and I have no idea if it’s true — that Dallas is becoming a national mecca for hookers from other cities, America’s golden corral for prostitutes. I have serious doubts that hookers are headed to Dallas on airplanes, trains, buses and turnip trucks, but I can tell you one thing for sure: Hall is under a lot of fire from people who, for one reason or another, don’t like the way she is handling vice enforcement.
She probably has other issues as well. That’s part of being the chief. It’s part of being a cop. No matter what you do, not everybody likes you.
This is what I surmise from the sudden appearance of the boyfriend-got-slapped story. This story is the first shot in a campaign to get rid of her.
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More surmising: This stuff, the boyfriend-slapping incident eight years ago in Detroit, is not the kind of information that comes from neighborhood leaders. This is much more likely to come from cops. That’s not to say the cops who got it can’t be sharing it with other interested parties, but I suspect it comes from cops originally.
We know the story did not get here by carrier pigeon. Somebody went to Detroit, physically or digitally, and got it and brought it home and peddled it to Channel 8. Then The Dallas Morning News felt it had to do the story. So now, oh my God, it’s NEWS.
THIS JUST IN! CHIEF SLAPPED BOYFRIEND! EIGHT YEARS AGO! NEW DEVELOPMENT! GUY SAYS CHIEF BORROWED GOLF CLUB, BROUGHT IT BACK DINGED. TWELVE YEARS AGO!
I think the what-the bell is telling us what Trump says all the time about the news. Stay tuned.