Some Things You Need to Know About the Dallas Police Department

How the Dallas police chief dealt with excessive police force and why we need to have his back.

As we learn more about the shooting last night, there are some things it will be helpful to know about the Dallas Police Department. David Brown has been the chief there since 2010 and, apparently, he has been doing some exemplary work to combat the use of excessive force by officers.

Police Chief David Brown says this shift toward de-escalation is driving a sharp drop in excessive-force complaints against officers. In 2009, the year before Brown became chief, 147 such complaints were filed. So far this year, 13 have been filed — on pace to be the lowest number in at least two decades.

“This is the most dramatic development in policing anywhere in the country,” Brown said in an interview Friday with The Dallas Morning News. “We’ve had this kind of impact basically through training, community policing and holding officers accountable.”…

Brown believes the Dallas training has also led to a 30 percent decline in assaults on officers this year, and a 40 percent drop in shootings by police.

Training instructors say they preach tactics that sometimes seem counter-intuitive to veteran officers: Slow down instead of rushing into a situation; don’t approach a suspect immediately. Try to build a rapport; don’t have multiple officers shout at once.

“By slowing things down, we’re able to make better decisions and get more peaceful resolutions,” said instructor Sgt. Anthony Greer.

Department leaders acknowledge that other factors also probably contributed to the decline in complaints, such as community engagement efforts. Also, the complaint decline coincides with street officers being outfitted with body microphones and dash-cam videos.

“The officers know they’re being monitored,” said Assistant Chief Tammie Hughes, who oversees internal affairs.

In other words, Chief Brown is one of those leaders President Obama referred to yesterday who is implementing most all of the recommendations from his Task Force on 21st Century Policing. That’s why, going into last night’s protest, you see the department tweeting things like this:

Reforms like the ones being implemented by Chief Brown (especially on police accountability) are often met with push-back from officers who are committed to a more militarized approach. So I wasn’t surprised at all to read this kind of deflection of the results from the police union.

Slower 911 response times have much more to do with the drop than changes in training, which are a “smokescreen,” said Ron Pinkston, president of the Dallas Police Association.

“We’re not getting there in a timely manner, so the bad guys are already gone,” Pinkston said. “The only complaint out there is the citizen saying, ‘What took you so long?’”

The danger here is that the shooting last night will work to reverse the kinds of gains Chief Brown has made with the Dallas PD. In his remarks this morning, he indicated that he’s not going to let that happen.

Police officers are guardians of this great democracy, the freedom to protest, the freedom of speech, the freedom of expression, all freedoms we fight for with our lives, it’s what makes us who we are as Americans. So we risk our lives for those rights, so we won’t militarize our policing standards, but we will do it in a much safer way every time.

We are not going to let a coward who would ambush police officers change our democracy. We’re not going to do it. Our city, our country is better than that.

Rather than view all police as villains, those of us interested in reform need to have Chief Brown’s back right now. He is going to come under fire from some powerful forces.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .