City Hall

New Police Chief's Decision To Kill Vice Unit Now Looks Like a Screw-Up

Dallas police Chief U. Renee Hall, who came to Dallas from Detroit, is known behind her back among the Dallas rank and file as "UHaul."
Dallas police Chief U. Renee Hall, who came to Dallas from Detroit, is known behind her back among the Dallas rank and file as "UHaul." WestportWiki / Wikimedia Commons
Let’s look at this just in terms of real life and normal business practice. In late November 2017, two months after Dallas police Chief U. Renee Hall arrived on the job from Detroit, detectives from the department’s intelligence unit “escorted” all of the detectives in the vice unit to their cubicles.

Escorting is sort of like frog-walking but not literally. The intelligence cops watched while the vice cops tossed all their stuff into boxes and vacated the premises in front of their peers.

Brand-new on the job, Hall already had found something so wrong, so disturbing, so alarming about the Dallas vice unit that the entire unit needed to be disbanded immediately. Then Hall went silent. So at that point it was up to you and me to guess.

Too many tardies? Violations of departmental policy on personal photographs? Something to do with facial hair? And she shuts down the vice entire unit for that?

No, we didn’t much think so, did we? Not if she shut down the entire vice unit and marched everybody out of there under guard. Somebody must have shot somebody.

They had to be running Russian whores out of the evidence room. For her to show up cold and shut down the entire unit in one cold whack, there had to be something deeply sketchy going on.

But when it was all said and done, no criminal charges were brought. This week when an assistant chief briefed a City Council committee on the final outcome, he told them no one was even going to be fired. In fact everybody from vice has new assignments within the department.

The new chief already has a nickname among the rank and file. Chief U. Renee Hall, who came here from Detroit, is now known behind her back as “UHaul.”

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OK, that screams screw-up.

You want even better evidence that Hall screwed up? Take a good listen to the completely reprehensible ass-covering story her minion put out to the media right after the council committee briefing. Assistant Chief Paul Stokes tried to make it sound as if all those vice detectives that Hall couldn’t get anything on are probably still crooks anyway.

First, he admits that the original investigation of vice was looking for criminal offenses, meaning Hall did think these cops might be crooks. Speaking to reporters in a City Hall corridor, Stokes said, “Prior to November 2017, there were instances in the vice unit that rose to behavior that our public integrity unit needed to look at. There could have been criminal behavior based on those allegations.”

Then — if you hold your mouth just right you can hear it — Stokes admits they didn’t find anything criminal. “When our public integrity unit looked at that,” Stokes says, “they couldn’t substantiate it based on intent, that the officers had intended to commit a criminal act.”

The cops come back from gambling stings and record the money they lost according to the standard operating procedures in effect at that time. But the procedures are bad. The accounting system the cops have been told to use doesn’t work. It doesn’t keep track of the money.

But no evidence is found to show that cops are stealing money. They are doing what they have been told to do, in fact. That’s called bad management. Or another thing you could call it: not a crime.

It’s a crime if the cops intend to steal money and then do it. But after a yearlong investigation — some of it contracted out to a police fraternal organization Hall belongs to — she can’t charge a single cop with jack.

By the way, the basic evidence that persuaded Hall to shut down vice in the first place was generated from an audit carried out by the people running vice before she got here. It sounds as if her yearlong probe, during which the entire vice unit was moribund, came up with nothing new on top of the self-reported problems found by the regime she banished.

None of the former vice detectives are being allowed to return to the vice unit. Stokes went to some lengths to make it clear at City Hall that, at least in the departmental administration’s view, the former vice detectives are still under a cloud:

“This investigation is not closed,” Stoke said. “These were very severe allegations on evidence handling, property, money and all that.”

Right. Severe allegations they didn’t prove. This is a kind of line you hear all the time around courthouses when somebody loses a case. A defeated district attorney will say, “The jury didn’t find the defendant innocent, just not guilty.”

Ass-covering.That’s all this is.  It’s an especially pernicious form of ass-covering, because this is about people’s personal and professional reputations.

By the way, there was an entire other narrative also at the same briefing about how the vice cops under the old regime never did anything to end prostitution. That’s one of Hall’s favorite lines, that if the old way of enforcing street prostitution laws is capable of changing people’s behaviors, it would have done so by now.

Having watched police enforcement of prostitution laws for a very long time, beginning with a stint in Hall’s former hometown, Detroit, where I was a young reporter, I don’t remember anybody ever asking the cops to end prostitution. All I ever heard anybody say was that they wanted the cops to move it.
Apparently the chief does not want to admit that killing the vice unit two months after hitting town was a major screw-up. - U. RENEE HALL VIA TWITTER
Apparently the chief does not want to admit that killing the vice unit two months after hitting town was a major screw-up.
U. Renee Hall via Twitter
If you have lived in or frequented a residential area where there is street prostitution nearby, you already know why the main thing people want is for the hookers to go away. The whores themselves and even their pimps usually are not the worst of the problem from a neighborhood’s perspective. The real chorus line in the fellatio follies is the johns, the drunken idiot customers cruising in their cars who can’t tell the difference between a street hooker and a mother walking her kids to school.

Neighborhoods just want it gone, and they expect the police to do it for them. A career police officer once described street prostitution enforcement to me as “checkers.” You move it from one square on the board to another and try not to get jumped.

“When our public integrity unit looked at that, they couldn’t substantiate it based on intent, that the officers had intended to commit a criminal act.” — Paul Stokes

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It’s absolutely true that police enforcement, especially the relentless threat of arrest and jail, can be linked with what are called diversion programs — basically good social work programs designed to help prostitutes find their ways out of the life.

Long before Chief Hall got here, Dallas was a national pioneer in diversion. The drug diversion program established by the new Dallas County District Attorney-elect John Creuzot during his years as a judge has become a national model praised by Republicans and Democrats alike.

But this week’s presentation to the council's public safety committee was deeply fuzzy, based on buzzwords like “victim-centric,” making it sound as if the newly reconstituted vice unit itself is going to be involved in diversion.

So how does that work? Instead of arresting the hookers, the cops do group therapy with them? Or they arrest them and then they do the group therapy?

No disrespect to the badge at all, and I mean that sincerely, but, no matter how screwed up I may get, I for one am not going to any group therapy sessions run by cops: “Brother Jim, it feels like you’re still holding back a bit on your true feelings about your father, and that’s unfair to the others in the group. I hope I’m not going to have to Tase you again.”

That’s about when I say, “Yeah, well, blubbery-eyes Sally Ann over there has got dope in her car.”

The larger point here is that none of this adds up. It’s just reprehensible that they’re making a big deal out of not letting any of the former vice cops back into the unit and also trying to make it sound as if they’re all still dirty. And then this soft-focus buzzword crap about making the vice unit “victim-centric.” It doesn’t add up.

The thing about not allowing any of the former vice cops back into the unit: Why not? Maybe there’s a reason. But in the absence of one, it just looks like vindictive ass-covering by a chief who can’t admit she made a mistake.

It would have been a class act for Hall to show up herself this week to explain what went wrong. But it was the opposite of a class act for the guy she sent in her place, Stokes, to slime the former vice cops.

By the way, the new chief already has a nickname among the rank-and-file. Chief U. Renee Hall, who came here from Detroit, is now known behind her back as “UHaul.”

You know what you could have called this outcome? She set out to prove a bunch of cops dirty. She couldn’t find a single criminal or firing offense among the lot of them. You could call that a vindication.

But let’s be realistic. Not to pick on Hall in particular, we could probably all agree that police chiefs in general are not known for easily admitting error. They’re of a certain type. Four star generals would be in there, too, as well as a great many newspaper editors although none that I am personally familiar with at the moment.

But there’s still a way to handle it. I was new in town. A great deal of evidence from the audit was thrust in front of me before I had time to get my feet on the ground. We did find areas where standard operating procedures need to be improved and management could do a better job of setting expectations.

But I am happy to announce a clean bill of health for the dedicated hard-working members of the vice unit, none of whom will be charged with criminal offenses, none of whom will be dismissed, all of whom have been reassigned to other important and worthwhile duties in the department while we take a new broom to our vice enforcement efforts.

That would have been the class way to do it.
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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze