On Monday, Dallas Police Chief David Brown briefed the City Council on changes the department's use-of-force training regimen. Before, training sessions were required once every two years; now, it's quarterly or bi-monthly. To oversee the training, Brown added several high-ranking officers to oversee the "use of force team."
The overhaul, the latest in Brown's 17-month-old crackdown on police shootings, received tepid reviews from the leaders of two of DPD's main unions, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Dallas Police Association. They took issue with the use-of-force team's structure ("management doesn't go out on the street and protect the citizens, the ground officers do that") but mainly treated it as another shallow attempt by Brown to cater to public outrage over recent cop shootings (see: Bobby Gerald Bennett, Clinton Allen, Kelvion Walker) at the expense of the rank and file.
But that's not what DPA president Ron Pinkston and FOP president Richard Todd are kvetching about. They're arguing that Brown's changes to the use-of-force policy, and his crackdown on officers who pull the trigger in questionable circumstances, have their members walking on eggshells.
Here's Todd: "They're going to be so worried about whether they're going to get in trouble that they're not going to react. They need to know about what levels of force they can use and when they should act."
And here's Pinkston in the letter he wrote to interim Dallas City Manager A.C. Gonzalez: "No longer can an officer quickly drive to a man with a gun, robbery in progress or domestic abuse call because the officer no longer believes he/she can use deadly force, without fear of being terminated."
To buy this line of argument, you first have to accept the premise that officers who find themselves in a life-or-death situation will pause long enough to worry about the career implications of firing their weapon that it will put them and the public at risk.
Chief Brown doesn't buy it:
@RichardRayFox4 shooting unarmed suspects who have their hands up is not consistent with our policy— Chief David O. Brown (@DPDChief) January 14, 2014
But politicians who attended a closed-door DPA meeting on Tuesday are lending it credence. State Representative Jason Villalba was careful in his comments to Fox 4 but expressed sympathy with the position of the police unions.
"With these new policies they have implemented you have this distinction between what is fear and reasonable fear," he said. "So the officer must have reasonable fear in order to utilize deadly force. But in a reasonable fear situation, who determines that?"
City Councilman Rick Callahan, who represents Pleasant Grove, took a similar line. "They're obviously concerned about the policy where they don't think they can go and freely do their jobs," he said. "I think there's a sense of hesitancy."
There's room to argue about the substance of Brown's changes, but given DPD's track record, might a bit more hesitancy be called for?
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.