Dallas Police Chief David Brown has started coming down hard on officers who are too quick to resort to deadly force. He fired senior corporal Amy Wilburn, who shot an unarmed carjacking suspect last month. Same with Carden Spencer, the cop who opened fire on a mentally ill man in a Rylie cul-de-sac in October, and Bryan Burgess, who ran over a suspicious-looking bicyclist during the spring.
Compare that with Houston, where every police shooting over the past six years has been declared justified, and Brown seems like a paragon of justice and accountability.[jump]
But Brown's whip-cracking, which has coincided with a swell of public outrage that's been building since last summer's shooting of James Harper nearly sparked a riot, hasn't pleased everyone. On the one hand are those who who want a harder line, pointing out that serious discipline only follows the revelation of some overwhelmingly damning piece of evidence -- say, a neighbor's surveillance video or an eyewitness account of the victim with his hands in the air -- and that his actions bear the hallmarks of crisis PR.
On the other are certain Dallas cops who say that Brown is making it impossible to do police work.
"Dallas Police Officers no longer know when they can use deadly force and, if they do, question whether they are going to be fired if they are forced to," Dallas Police Association president Ron Pinkston wrote last week in a letter to interim city manager A.C. Gonzalez, complaining of Wilburn's termination. "This up in the air policy creates doubt and hesitation in an officer about when/if to use deadly force, which ultimately is going to result in an officer and/or a citizen getting killed."
One could argue that causing officers to think twice before pulling the trigger could have the opposite effect, but the feeling is real and it's probably shared by a good many of the 4,000 current and former officers who are members of the DPA.
In any event, Brown can't win. Never could. Maybe the fact that he's pissing off both cops and cop skeptics alike from both sides is proof that he's headed at least in the right general direction.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.