Does Dallas PD Sentiment Reflect Police Morale Nationwide?

“Don’t come here” is the message that caught my eye in the Dallas News March 13, 2018 edition. My police curiosity piqued. One after another I found messaging about broken pieces and all that is handcuffing Dallas, Texas…according to members of its police force. Like corporate America, police entities have their own pangs and hiccups to resolve.

The Dallas PD’s woes are largely underscored by its low morale equating to a rapidly diminishing police force riding out to greener pastures. The easily-deduced common thread is management, or lack thereof. Factoring into tanked morale are persistent anti-police sentiments, pension insolvency, reductions in benefits…pretty much a potpourri of foul-smelling ingredients.

In December 2016, “Dallas police and firefighters voted to not cut pension benefits,” according to a NBCDFW.com report. In a give-and-take proposition by the city, “Police and firefighters rejected a plan that included a $1.1 billion cash infusion from the city but also called for benefit reductions and increased member contributions.” Sometimes playing tug-of-war does not seem palatable while working the mean streets of America. And that is why a judiciary had to weigh-in recently.

On March 16, 2018, a federal judge tossed a January 2017 lawsuit filed by a handful of Dallas police retirees, claiming “the [pension] board’s decision to freeze lump-sum withdrawals from their Deferred Retirement Option Plan—known as DROP—was unconstitutional,” the Dallas News published.

According to reporter Tristan Hallman, “U.S. District Judge David Godbey wrote in his 26-page order that the plaintiffs had no constitutional claims because they ultimately ‘will receive every dollar of their DROP funds’ and that “the board’s decision was ‘certainly legitimate’ because the fund ‘was projected to become insolvent within the next decade if the Texas Legislature and the Board did not act.'” Like anyone else with a glimpse toward the future, public safety professionals wish to know their golden nest egg they work so hard to build will not have cracks when they get to the end of the tunnel.

Exacerbating rank-and-file relations with command staff had a huge thorn with which to contend: a police chief who ostensibly held rank of…civilian.

Bizarre stuff going on there—more on that factor later. All of these detractors are seemingly evident at a time when the Dallas police force is reportedly atrophied while trying to muster recruitment strength for an inflating number of vacancies.

Dallas PD is an agency whose personnel are understandably begrudged and taken-aback by the murders of five police officers in one fell swoop on a July 2016 evening, all at the hands of a sniper who was influenced by the likes of Black Lives Matter. Such a cold and heartless act did not garner police support, at least not to the degree any objective human would offer. Hatred for the Thin Blue Line was copiously spewed while BLM became a hugely touted thing.

No textbook has the perfect answer toward resolve regarding that blue-blood massacre. Although considered a cop’s cop speaking on behalf of his police force and the insidiousness of anti-police sentiment, then-police Chief David Brown retired…and new police Chief Ulysha Renee Hall assumed the top-cop spot. According to the Texas Tribune, Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax “hired Detroit Deputy Chief Ulysha Renee Hall, who will be the first female to serve as police chief in Dallas” effective July 19, 2017.

In short order, Chief Hall demoted five police executives from top-brass posts, in effect shocking rank-and-file officers. Although most agreed the department was too top-heavy, the frontline cops felt she alienated veteran police talents, some of whom were her competition and finalists for the police chief gig. Per a PoliceOne.com revelation, “There were promotions in the reshuffle, as well: Both the major and deputy chief from the central division are now assistant chiefs. Deputy Chief Rick Watson, another finalist for the chief job, retained his position.”

That sounds less like downsizing and more like realignment of brass. Several of those demoted chose not to stay with DPD, moving on to police jobs elsewhere in Texas.

However, in an October 2017 City Council hearing, Chief Hall signaled “We’ve lost nearly 500 officers [to exodus and attrition], so we need to reflect that at the top. To an accounting mindset, that could mean economical calculations based on executive salaries for police recruit hires. In an organizational planning view, that could mean fewer officers need less superior roles for oversight.

Elaborating on its own surprise of Chief Hall’s moves, the Dallas Police Association released a written communique stating “Our concern is that the absence of these respected commanders will add to the plummeting morale in the Dallas Police Department and increase the exodus of officers.”

Yet, a curious tale existed which further boggles the Dallas cops’ minds; it vexes mine, too. Chief Hall was brought in to the top-cop post even though she had yet to take the Texas state test to attain her certification (licensure) to be a bona fide Texas law enforcement officer. Dallas News staff writer Naheed Rajwani reported “Dallas police chief ‘ready to get back to work’ after passing state test that put her in uniform” on February 15, 2018.

Dallas, Texas police Chief Ulysha Renee Hall after passing the Texas state police exam to acquire law enforcement officer certification in February 15, 2018. (Credit: Twitter/Ulysha Renee Hall)

Paring it down: Chief Hall was announced as the Dallas PD figurehead in July 2017 and, while leading Dallas PD as an experienced Detroit law enforcement executive, did so without certification officially conferred by the state of Texas. Acting more like a corporate CEO conducting a shake-up and not like a state-licensed police executive exercising due discretion, Chief Hall nevertheless made moves. She hadn’t yet been issued a service weapon but directed all those who did, that equates to roughly 3,640 Dallas cops policing a populace of approximately 1.2 million.

Per Rajwani, Chief Hall “oversaw the Dallas Police Department as a civilian, wearing civilian clothes, while working toward the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement’s certification for the state’s peace officers.”

That befits the “incredulous” category. I’ve never heard of that maneuver before; cynicism aside, it smacks of political prowess piloting a legal arm of the city.

To colorize that last point, reports indicate city manager “Broadnax went to the council to ask for a higher salary to pay the new chief” while being fully cognizant of the city police force’s “big challenges, including low morale, failing pensions and a dwindling police department.”

“Your leader needs to look like you,” telegraphed Michael Mata, president of the Dallas Police Association. “It’s time to tackle the programs plaguing the department right now.”

Where Do We Go from Here?

With any exodus from any police department, skills and experience are manna from Heaven that, when forced by default, just walks out the door with a Royal Flush spread. Tacitly, the newest police officers bear the burden of that ill-advised sacrifice.

Thanks to a fender-bender she was involved in, Dallas News editorial writer Sharon Grigsby was placed in an impromptu informal interview with Dallas cops and some candor regarding the police climate in the city. In short, the Dallas cops investigating the traffic crash opened up and claimed abandonment. Cops can take plenty; it is a rather inherent trait to police officer safety and survival, both physically and emotionally. But Grigsby said the cops told her the department’s rank-and-file feel as though City Hall, police command staff under Hall’s tutelage, and the citizenry have largely “kicked them to the curb.”

I am not there to even remotely understand the convictions of Dallas cops and what they are experiencing in terms of a seemingly untenable climate for police personnel. However, Dallas reporter Grigsby has a ear to the Dallas beat, saying, “What I found most troubling was that these cops seem exactly the kind of officers we want to keep on the force—smart, professional, unflappable, caring.

“Yet, they all feel the department, the city and the city’s residents have abandoned them. It was hard to reconcile the spirit of excellent service they exhibited with the bewilderment, frustration and, at times, anger they expressed about their bosses.” That sounds like a media mind who gets where the police are coming from…and reports it with altruism. A wonderfully novel use of a computer keyboard.

Dutch Boy Mitigation

Basically, cops not feeling support from administration and/or their constituency renders the police entity ineffective to varying degrees. One deficiency transcends to others. When a significant number of cops have had enough and depart for other police agencies, the holes are plugged with veterans ordinarily responsible for investigating/closing cases and/or staffing specialized capacities. Detectives and special unit officers are reassigned to the backbone of every law enforcement agency: Patrol.

With redistribution of cops from units B and C to unit A, the department tilts like a see-saw…and that will always pose dangers not only to the understaffed police department but also to citizens to whom they vowed to protect and serve. Imbalance usually gives way and lopsidedness becomes a dangerous and foolish norm. Ultimately, evil seeps in.

Holland protects its populations’ land mass from sea water intrusion by a multitude of dike walls and embankments enveloping its terrain. Potential for leaks is a possibility. The Hans Brinker the Dutch Boy fable demonstrated the principle of using resources in one area to plug a leak in another part of the structure. Plugging leaks with fingers invariably creates more pressure on an already-weakened wall thus generating newer leaks. After a while, there are not enough fingers and toes to plug every breach…and the whole damn dam buckles.

(Credit: Wunderkammelchannel via YouTube screen shot)

Such an occurrence could be catastrophic for Holland folks. If that sounds like an epidemic, it does have some measure on the charts of government dysfunction. Is it that dire in Dallas? The frontline street cops know best, so I tend to listen more acutely to them versus a political mouthpiece more engaged with warming the wheelhouse than floating the vessel. After all, cops’ lives depend on a well-managed, fiscally funded, and wholly supported framework of fingers on the police pulse forestalling any breaches. Building-up defenses may require finesse and amicable standards.

Direct from John Jacob, a Dallas PD officer assigned to the department’s Recruitment section, is testimony that any police candidates must have “some college” credits to qualify as an applicant, well before the hiring process commences. From the DPD Recruitment page, prospective recruits must possess “45 [college credits] if over 21 years of age or 60 [credits ] if under 21. Other options 3 years active duty military experience with an honorable discharge as stated on the DD 214.”

In the event a recruit with prior law enforcement experience still wishes to join DPD, one Dallas recruiter explained, “You can also lateral [transfer] under certain conditions if you are prior law enforcement with 3 years certified peace officer experience.” At first, that sounds like an arrangement suitable for Hall, but “lateral” means one thing…and it excludes a patrol officer taking a grand leap to police chief.

Some simple sleuthing around the engines of Dallas PD recruiters has them traversing to colleges and universities throughout Texas and its surrounding states, apparently focused on college-educated individuals since that is their requirement. Dallas PD does offer tuition reimbursement while new hires’ salary starts at $49,207.

February 22, 2018: “What a great day to test! It’s an honor to see new applicants take the leap of courage towards their new career. It is a blessing to see retired officers come back to re-enlist.” (Credit: Facebook/Dallas Police Department Recruitment)

Despite all the negatives reportedly against it, the Dallas PD seems to be attracting police officer candidates. Dallas police recruiters hold events to offer prospective cops a walk-through to include completing requisite forms and counseling candidates on “next steps” in the process, much like a career guidance counselor would do.

Similar to the growing pains Dallas PD is experiencing, many police agencies across the country are reporting recruitment and retention issues. In a larger context, the arduous road to filling police slots and keeping veteran officers stems from the anti-police rhetoric which burned through the country like an ignited errant matchstick at a hay baling ranch.

As police union president Mata put it: “There are limited fixes when you have limited resources.” And that points directly at recruitment for a department which has allowed blemished armor to rust many layers deep.

I’m so stuck on the Chief Brown to Chief Hall transition. Barring some wacky lateral workaround, hiring a chief from another state who didn’t even have the authority to do police work for almost one year while her boss asks for an increased salary on her behalf definitely smells, and it has nothing to do with roses.

(Credit: Twitter/Ulysha Renee Hall)

To be fair and to not leave bitter pills laying around, the five Dallas cops slain by sniper-fire in July 2016 led to a constructive change. Calling it “Christmas in March,” on March 14th Dallas police patrol officers were issued enhanced ballistic vests/helmets engineered to sustain high-caliber rifle-fire. Staying alive is surely a precursor to working through all the other dilemmas Dallas PD is confronting.

Dallas city councilman Adam McGough offered, “At the end of the day, we’ve got the most professional police officers in the country and they’re going to do what they always do, and that’s come together and make the city safer. That’s the goal for all of us in this.” I have no doubt Dallas cops are consistently professional in their duty performance, but…aren’t they exiting Dallas PD employment? They’re coming together, only elsewhere…where they are shown appreciation and dignity in various ways.

One thing is certain, the new Dallas police administration has a box full of quandaries. Now that Chief Hall is properly licensed by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, hopeful resolve rests upon her four-starred shoulders.

My own department is experiencing its own retention and recruitment woes, and it is consistently worsening. Much is said about law enforcement no longer looking like a viable profession for which candidates compete. Are we confronting a nationwide paralysis in policing the United States? Are you aware of any police agencies enduring what Dallas is trying to survive? Are other cops warning “Don’t come here”?

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Content Manager and Contributor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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