Protection Racket

Does Dallas really have the worst crime rate of any big city in the nation? And we didn't know that? And what is the chief, nuts?


There are whole layers of history here that have never been shared with the public. First of all, Dallas police Chief Terrell Bolton is John Wiley Price's chief of police. In 1998, County Commissioner Price, the city's most influential black leader, and an attorney friend of his developed the entire case against former Chief Ben Click for so-called "disparate discipline"--the notion that Click's department handed out much tougher discipline to minority officers than to whites.

The Dallas Observer published a thorough story on it by Miriam Rozen showing that the case, while not lock-cinch, was persuasive. The Justice Department came to town and announced a big investigation.

The outcome of all that was a deal brokered by Price. Click was out. Bolton was in. End of story. End of investigation. And tragically for the department, end of discipline reform.

No one has suffered more brutally from Bolton's misrule than minorities in this city. The entire "Sheetrock" or fake-drugs scandal, in which his department sent to prison people on whom fake drugs had been planted, fell on the backs of Mexican immigrants. More than 80 percent of the victims of violent crime in this city are people of color.

And the cops do seem to be out of control. For the past year, some of the most committed and sincere leaders in the African-American community, led by the Reverend L. Charles Stovall, have been agitating on the issue of police shootings of minorities. I have huge respect for Stovall and have spoken to him a number of times about this. Each time, he tells me that the criticism of the police department must not and cannot be allowed to touch the chief.

Price, whom I have known for 25 years and with whom I used to speak regularly, won't return my calls. I want to ask: John, why in the name of political pride and personal power have you turned your back on minority and poor citizens of this city? Is it really so important for you personally to keep your guy? You know the street. You know that cops out of control take it out on poor people before they take it out on anybody else, and one of the grotesque vagaries of life is that this includes black and Latino cops right in there with the white cops. You see, after five years, that your guy cannot control the department.

You don't care?

The other part of Price's deal was with The Dallas Morning News. I have to say right away that a regime change has taken place at the News since this happened, and I don't believe the new group at the News would agree to the slimy arrangement the old regime made with Price. But the old regime agreed to yank its best reporters off the chief's back if Price would stop burning stacks of newspapers out in front of the newspaper building.

Everybody in the business knows it. The reporters have yakked. I don't know if the deal was explicit or unspoken, but it happened for reasons that are almost hilarious.

John Wiley Price is brilliant at manipulating the fears of a certain breed of old white people in this city. Imagine them sitting up there in the Belo penthouse in their white suits, shaking and pouring sweat and telling each other, "We mustn't stir them up, or the colored people might lose control of themselves!" It's like a 1950s black-and-white television ad for Colonel Sanders chicken.

Bolton has taken his instruction from Price. Repeatedly, whenever his leadership has been challenged, Bolton has suggested there will be racial unrest in the streets if he loses his job. I don't think so. I don't remember any big riots in history where people took to the streets to save the police chief's job. "We won't ever go away/Until the chief gets double contributions to his 401(k)!" Doesn't resonate somehow. I guess you could do a riot like that, but I think you'd have to pay the rioters Actors Guild scale.

The saga of the Morning News and the crime-rate story is at least as dispiriting as the Bolton/John Wiley Price tale. Two years ago a guy in the local security business, Calie Stephens, did some research on the FBI uniform crime reports and found to his astonishment that Dallas had the very worst overall crime rate of any city in the country with more than a million people--three times worse than New York. But he had never seen this fact in the newspaper or on television.

You could fault us at the Observer for not doing the story, but we're a weekly magazine. We just don't do "tickler file" stories on regular government reports: Normally, that's the province of the daily. Anybody who has ever worked the police beat at a daily newspaper knows you do a story every year when the FBI crime stats come out.

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