Policing a city like Dallas, even as crime falls, never goes smoothly. But it's been an especially rocky year for the Dallas Police Department, where, in the wake of Ferguson's violence, the city saw string of officers shooting and sometimes killing citizens.
The violence led to multiple town hall meetings hosted by District Attorney Craig Watkins, where attendees had one major suggestion for improving relations: Make more of the force live in the city they patrol. Only about a fifth of Dallas cops live in Dallas proper. If more lived in town, activists say, they would be perceived as less an occupying force and more of a really vigilant and badass neighbor.
It's a logical enough thesis and the rationale for residency requirements that exist across the city, although the data suggests the impact isn't what you might expect. Regardless: It's not happening.
The average Dallas police officer makes a base salary of about $50,000 a year, according to the city. With the added benefit of "special pay," which essentially pays for being loyal to the department, officers can make close to $60,000, on average. Higher-ranking officers, naturally, make more. But many officers make less than $60,000 a year. And like a lot of middle-income workers, the minute they start thinking about having kids they book it to the suburbs.
"If I can afford to live in some of the better parts of the city, I would," Ron Pinkston, president of the Dallas Police Association, told Unfair Park. "I can't afford it. For the quality of home I can get in the suburbs, I can't get that in Dallas. And then most Dallas officers wouldn't send their kids to DISD schools."
Well, at least not any DISD school. Many would probably send their kids to one of the handful of elementary schools performing well enough to attract middle-class families, but even those are becoming unattainable for those families. Stonewall Jackson Elementary has long been a haven for city-dwelling middle-class parents. But in the school's zip code, 75206, the price per square foot is about $60 more than the average Dallas home and about $100 more than the average for the metroplex, according to Zillow. And on many of the streets that feed into the school, modestly sized houses that might sell in the $400,000s -- already well out of reach for a cop making $50,000 -- are being razed and replaced by McMansions that sell for $800,000 and more to bankers and lawyers.
We could always pay cops more. The starting salary for a Dallas officer right out of training and in a police car is about $42,900, according to the city. Out of the 10 most populous cities in the Dallas area, that's the lowest. Most of the other cities pay between $50,000 and $55,000 out of the gate. Plano pays more than $60,000.
"It's a constant battle," Pinkston said. "We want the best police officers, but we don't pay to get the best."
But even a salary bump would leave most officers priced out of the neighborhoods where the schools and housing stock matches what they find in the suburbs. So off they go. And the department has no intention of stopping them.
"Most of our officers don't live in the city, and we don't have any programs to encourage them to live in the city nor any budget," Chief David Brown said at one of those town halls. "Living here would help, but we don't have that right now. The next best thing is more cultural awareness."
Send your story tips to the author, Sky Chadde.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.