The seven finalists competing to become Dallas' next police chief come both from within the city's ranks and as far away as California and Virginia, but they were singing from the same hymnal this week as the public got its first chance to check them out. Call it 'bless our communities.'
They made pitches for the job Wednesday during a livestreamed forum open to the public online. Public Sector Search and Consulting, an executive talent recruitment firm, winnowed dozens of applications to arrive at the seven, who spent part of the week being interviewed by community members and city leaders. The final decision on who will replace outgoing Chief U. Renee Hall belongs to City Manager T.C. Broadnax, who expects to make a selection by the end of the month, according to KERA.
Four of the candidates have experience within the department. The others are outsiders, but they're already chiefs of police. The seven:
- Malik Aziz, a Dallas police major and commander of the Northeast Patrol Division.
- RaShall M. Brackney, Charlottesville, Virginia, chief of police
- Eddie Garcia, San Jose, California, chief of police
- Albert Martinez, former DPD deputy chief who recently became security director at the Dallas Catholic Diocese.
- Avery L. Moore, assistant chief at DPD
- Reuben Ramirez, deputy chief at DPD
- Jeff Spivey, Irving chief of police
Each candidate also said they support hiring more civilians to relieve officers of non-police duties, and they endorsed the expansion of programs like an existing Dallas effort that employs mental health workers to assist police with people who need psychiatric care. They said the next chief must build up morale among officers and command staff.
So, how were the reviews for Wednesday's forum?
In an email, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said the stakes are high. Homicides are at their highest since 2004, cases of aggravated assault have climbed 25% since last year and response times still are still slow.
"Dallas needs a leader who will take these numbers personally and has the experience, vision and know-how to lead a department of more than 3,000 officers," Johnson said. "I want the next police chief to be successful. And the community and the City Council will need to step up to help him or her."
Mike Mata, president of the Dallas Police Association, said the candidates were well prepared and had good answers during the online session, but he would have preferred to hear more about how they would run the department internally.
“I understand that community programs are really the hot topic at this time, which is important,” Mata said. “But also, that administrative knowledge is really important. I just hope T.C. Broadnax makes the right decision this time because we can’t afford another mistake.”
Mata said the finalists include good candidates from both inside and outside the department, and if the next chief comes from outside, he or she will need to listen to the people in the department who know more about the city. If the next chief is an inside hire, he said they must realize the potential and knowledge of the other officers in the department who were up for the job.
"Don't be insecure to the point that you're fearful of those individuals," Mata said. "It's time to sit down with those individuals, sit them down and say 'How do we make this department better with all of us leading?'"
Councilman Adam Bazaldua, a member of the public safety committee, said he had narrowed down his favorites to one outside hire, Garcia, and one insider, Aziz, and the forum Wednesday reaffirmed his choices. He said there are pros and cons to both of them, but he was impressed with Garcia's assertiveness during the forum. "I was looking for that assertive leadership," he said.
Bazaldua said Aziz's experience in Dallas is a big plus. Coming from the outside, Garcia would have to prove himself to the city, and Aziz largely already has.
If he were to offer advice to the next chief, he said he would tell them to leave the politics to the politicians and focus on building his command staff. "It's much more than just about one person," Bazaldua said. "Any good leader is only as good as the weakest person on their team."
David Villalobos, an activist with Texas Organizing Project, was part of a panel that interviewed each candidate for 15 minutes the day before the forum. What he was looking for in the candidates was their willingness to include community programs in their vision of public safety in Dallas.
He said he would encourage the next chief to be open to new approaches to reducing crime and not fall back on traditional tactics that don't move the needle on crime.
He and Texas Organizing Project are still digesting all the information and wouldn't say who their favorites are. Regardless of whoever gets the job, he said, activists' role will be to hold them accountable.
Here's are short summaries of the candidates' backgrounds and what they said at the forum:
Aziz has worked for the department since 1992 and has been up for police chief positions before. If Dallas wants Aziz, they might have to fight for him, as he is also a finalist in Milwaukee’s search for a new chief.
Aziz grew up in South Dallas, and his family has been in the area for five generations. He spoke about living in Dallas in the '90s during some of the most murderous years the city has seen and said there are numerous drivers of violent crime, including the drug trade, gangs, family violence and poverty. To tackle these, he said, the police need to build partnerships and trust with the community.
Aziz said to build this trust, the department needs to build better officers, who care and understand the city, as well as the relationship between the department and residents.
RaShall M. Brackney
Before becoming chief in Charlottesville, Brackney retired after 30 years of service at the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. She has also been recognized for her community-police relations work and was chosen by the Department of Justice to examine biased-based and hate crimes reporting challenges across the country.
Brackney said police need to acknowledge how they've damaged communities before they can fix them and build relationships. Police traditionally have spent too much time in communities over-policing them and under-protecting them. "Once you acknowledge that you've hurt someone or you've harmed them, that's the first step in building trust," she said. "The second part is then the transparency as to how you operate and what you will commit to from this point forward."
These communities need institutional support, she said, and without it, violent crime is more likely to flourish. “You can’t arrest yourself out of violent crime,” she said. Brackney was the most critical of the city’s violent crime reduction plan, saying it is not organized or forward-thinking, but she would continue with its technology-driven approach.
If Garcia gets the job, he’ll be exiting a department in San Jose for one three times its size. Garcia announced he would be leaving his department of 28 years about a month before Hall announced her resignation. The two have something in common: They’ve both been grilled by their respective city council’s for their response to recent protests.
Garcia also said police need to acknowledge their part in the growing distrust in law enforcement before they can mend relationships with residents. "We need to acknowledge the stars and the badges that we wear so brightly and proud didn't always shine that way," he said. Police need to do a better job of communication, he said, and they need to be more transparent. For example, in San Jose, his department's policy included posting information about use-of-force incidents online.
Martinez left DPD at the beginning of the year to fill a newly created security director position at the Dallas Catholic Diocese. There, he oversaw security at 75 parishes and other facilities. He said going to work for the diocese was an act of service for his community and his faith in a time of need.
Martinez was also the commander of the Southwest Patrol Division, and his law enforcement career spans almost 30 years.
Simple day-to-day contacts with residents are key to building trust, he said. Officers must represent themselves professionally, showing empathy and respecting the dignity of the communities they serve. "One of the rules of policing is that you can take a person's freedom and liberty, but you can never take their dignity," he said. When officers don't conduct themselves this way, it tarnishes the relationship between the department and the community.
Avery L. Moore
Assistant Chief Moore has been with DPD for 30 years. He started with the department patrolling the streets of the Northeast Patrol Division before becoming an instructor at the Dallas Police Academy teaching defensive tactics.
Moore said the increased lack of trust in the police after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis earlier this year has exacerbated Dallas’ struggles with violent crime. Communities won’t call the police if they don’t trust them, he said, and that drives up crime. "If you really want to affect violent crime, urban violent crime, in any city, the community has to be a large component of that," he said.
Police need to be more present in the community, he said: “We need to show people that we’re there to engage, not enforce.”
Deputy Chief Ramirez has been with DPD for 25 years. In that time, he was a detective in the narcotics division, a lieutenant over the criminal intelligence unit and a major in internal affairs before joining the criminal investigations bureau.
Ramirez said police need to be more approachable, more available and more responsive, and they need more information from communities. DPD needs to capitalize on community crime watch operations, which he calls one of the best crime-fighting tools in the country. The department should also stop hot-spot policing. “Our communities of color have spoken loud and clear, they don’t want to be over-policed,” he said.
Ramirez said that as police chief his violent crime plan would focus on eradicating drug houses in Dallas.
Irving's Chief Spivey has been with his department since the late '80s and chief of police for about three years. Spivey climbed through the ranks in Irving PD as a sergeant, lieutenant, captain and assistant police chief. As an assistant chief, Spivey oversaw, among other things, the city’s 911 call center.
Spivey said without community trust in the police, officers can't put a dent in crime. "They’re the ones who are going to serve as witnesses. They’re the ones who are going to tell us where the drug houses are. They’re the ones who are going to be calling the police when something doesn't look right," Spivey said. "If they don’t trust the police department, they're not gonna make those calls."
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.