A year ago I was getting ready to take command of the Southeast Patrol Division while my boss headed to the FBI National Academy for 10 weeks. I was getting used to being back in patrol. And then July 7 happened to us all. In the time since the deadly attacks, this police department has changed in ways that no one could have imagined. What follows are five things that I think the citizens of Dallas should know about their police department.
1. We’re not the same police department.
We are projected to lose more than 350 officers by the end of this fiscal year. Some estimates put that number at more than 400 officers once they see the impact that new pension reforms will have on them. We have lost a significant amount of knowledge and experience to retirements and resignations. Departments across the state and nation are benefiting from this loss by hiring officers who started their careers in Dallas. Those departments are benefiting from our excellent training program and the challenges and experience that big-city police work offers.
We are significantly leaner than we have been in years. Officers sit in the detail rooms where roll-call meetings are held, but while they once sat beside friends and partners, many of those friends and partners have left for other careers or other departments. That changes the social dynamic of how they go about their jobs. They miss those with whom they forged working relationships. To their incredible credit, the officers who remain have done an outstanding job of policing a city. They just don’t quit. They are consistently being called upon to police the city with fewer officers and with increasing efficiency.
2. We don’t feel secure.
In June 2015, a gunman attacked our police headquarters. Improvements to all police facilities were called for but have yet to come. The lack of physical security takes a toll on officers’ mental health. In February, a shooter in a vehicle fired multiple shots at the South Central Patrol Division building. Thankfully, no one was injured, but it still takes a toll. Officers push those kinds of things to the back of their minds, but they’re never completely gone.
Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs, a theory in psychology that seeks to explain human motivations that is named after its creator, Abraham Mazlow, tells us that our base need is for security. That may sound counterintuitive in a dangerous profession like police work, but security at the stations and workplaces where officers get ready to go to work and home is a base need. Officers are ready for the dangers of the street but need safe places to change clothes and prepare for their shifts and their return home.
3. We’re still hurting.
I reject the notion that there is a war on police, but many officers don’t. Officer deaths have been on a downtrend over the last decade. However, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, officer deaths from gunfire are up 21 percent in 2017, and line-of-duty deaths overall are up 27 percent this year. The narratives matter to human beings, and the most recent narratives retold among officers are those of July 7, February 2017 and the other instances in which officers around the country have been ambushed.
It’s important for officers to be reminded that the clear majority of the public supports them. I frequently tell people: I can count on one hand how many times someone bought my lunch during the first 10 years of my career. However, in the last 12 months, it’s happened too many times to count. This is a testament to the amazing citizens of the city of Dallas and even the surrounding Metroplex as a whole. The outpouring of support in the last year has been incredible. Dallas cried with us, and we continue to feel that support. This anniversary is not the police department’s alone, and we recognize that. It is our collective burden to shoulder, and having the citizens lighten this load throughout the year has meant a lot to us.
We haven’t maxed out on retirements, and we’re unable to hire at the rate we need to because we aren’t competitive. It’s simple economics, and it’s incredibly unfortunate. The Dallas Police Department has been the shining example for the state of Texas and for the nation. We have been pioneers in training and technology. We have built an excellent reputation as a pinnacle of law enforcement, and to see what’s happened over the last year has been difficult for all who have worn the uniform. When officers learn of the exact impact that pension reform will have on them, more will leave. The workload is unchanging or increasing, and the workforce is shrinking. We’ve always preached doing more with less, but we are fast reaching the point of diminishing returns. That said, we are truly blessed to live in this great nation and have the opportunities we do — that is not lost on us.
5. There are plenty of reasons to feel encouraged.
A new chief is around the corner, and with that comes the expectation that all who remain will chart the next course for the DPD. We went from good to great in the first decade of the new millennium, and I have no doubt that we can go from wherever we are now to great again. It’s going to take a long time and a serious commitment from the city government. The status quo won’t do it. We take pride in this organization, and it hurts to see what we’ve gone through in the last year. We’re not looking for pity; we chose this work, and we continue to choose to do this work. I’m proud of the men and women of the Dallas Police Department. I’m proud to be associated with them. There’s more work to be done. And know this: We remain committed to treating everyone with dignity, fairness and justice — there is no other option, regardless of outside influences and circumstances.