At the latest town hall meeting held by District Attorney Craig Watkins, Dallas Police Chief David Brown, speaking to a primarily black crowd, said a program to educate young officers about the police department's history with the city was in the works. He seemed to think it was badly needed.
"I'm a fourth-generation Dallasite," Brown said, "so I know a lot about Dallas that I just don't believe our young cops that patrol your neighborhoods know. Many cops don't know anything about Santos Rodriguez, even though everybody from Dallas knows about Santos Rodriguez."
Rodriguez was a 12-year-old Hispanic boy Dallas Officer Darrell Cain shot while he sat in the back of a squad car. Thinking Rodriguez might be involved in stealing a few dollars from a soda machine, Cain had picked him up. Rodriguez was innocent. The shooting sparked riots, and was a flash point that got more and more Hispanics involved in city government.
"Just think," Brown continued, "that we hire people who weren't born until the '90s now and the late '80s so they don't know anything about the 1988 Congressional hearings here in Dallas."
Those hearings were on Dallas officers' alleged use of excessive force, particularly against the black community. The events that led to the hearings split the black and white communities of Dallas.
Brown's response was prompted by a question about the possibility of having incentives for Dallas police officers to live in the city of Dallas. According to data collected on the site FiveThirtyEight.com, 19 percent of about 3,500 officers live in Dallas proper. More than 60 percent of San Antonio's nearly 3,000 officers lives in its city limits. More than 40 percent of Forth Worth's nearly 1,500 do. Nearly 30 percent of Houston's almost 8,000 do. The average for the 75 cities with the largest police forces is 40 percent, according to the site.
The questioner seemed to imply that, if officers actually lived in the communities they policed, there would be more community trust in them. Some research suggests there might be some truth to that, but there's nothing definitive. If Dallas police officers don't live here, Brown says they should at least be familiar with the place they're policing.
"The point is not living in the city," Brown said. "It's do you know anything about the city you police. 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. We want, though, to fill in that gap even though we don't have funds for it."
"Most cops have a very narrow view of Dallas based on the beat they patrol and that beat's perspective, context and history of Dallas," Brown said. "Living here would help, but we don't have that right now. The next best thing is more cultural awareness, an immersion-type process. We can really get to know people, where they are, their experiences, and the history. It's a rich history that's good and bad. We're moving quickly to that."
Ron Pinkston, the Dallas Police Association president, agreed that residency was not a requirement to know the Dallas Police Department's sometimes poor history with the community.
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"You don't have to live in Dallas to know the past of the city of Dallas," Pinkston said. "[The Rodriguez case] was an officer who shot a burglary suspect in the back of a squad car. He went to prison for it. He was convicted and sent to jail and rightfully so. We understand that. We all know. We don't have to live here to know the history."
As for a reason why most officers don't live in the city, Pinkston offers a few -- most having to do with money. Starting pay for officers is $42,900, he said, and "and those are officers going out on the streets and risking their lives."
"If you look at our pay, our pay is the lowest in the metroplex," he said. "We had some officers who had to go get subsidies because the pay is so low and they have families. Our health insurance, we pay some of the highest rates for municipalities in the state of Texas, and we have the worst health insurance. We pay the highest and we get the worst. Granted, if I can afford to live in some of the better parts of the city, I would. 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."
Send your story tips to the author, Sky Chadde.