Dallas leaders plan campaign to back police, raise funds

Months after a sea of protesters flooded Dallas streets and freeways to protest police actions, a Dallas woman will unveil a plan Thursday to turn that tide.

On Feb. 16 — Presidents Day — Toni Brinker Pickens and Mayor Mike Rawlings, Police Chief David Brown and other city leaders will launch Operation: Blue Shield, a fundraising effort for the Dallas Police Department. They are expected to publicly announce the initiative Thursday at Paul Quinn College.

Pickens said in a recent meeting with The Dallas Morning News’ editorial board that she was bothered by nationwide anti-police sentiment last year in light of officers’ fatal encounters with unarmed black men in other cities. She said she wants to acknowledge differences in opinion on policing tactics, but her aim is to show police that the vast majority of people support them.

Pickens said “We’re All In” will serve as the campaign’s mantra.

“The uniqueness of this is for people who want to say something but don’t know how — this is a perfect way of saying: ‘We’re all in. We’re in this together. This is a great city. This is a great country,’” she said.

The campaign will direct people to operationblueshield.com to donate at least $1. Donors will receive hat clips and stickers, which Pickens called “the best thing since sliced bread, if you are a kid.”

The money will be funneled to Safer Dallas Better Dallas, which funds public safety initiatives and Dallas Police Department efforts. Pickens said police need body cameras, for instance. Brown has been pursuing money for them. She also said she wants to buy bulletproof vests for the city’s community prosecutors, who use city ordinances to try to drive out crime and build up neighborhoods.

Pickens said she has been working on the campaign for about six weeks. The work came months after hundreds of mostly peaceful protests against shootings by police in Dallas, although some spilled onto Interstate 35 and led to arrests. The demonstrations were sparked by grand juries in New York and Ferguson, Mo., declining to indict officers for fatal encounters with unarmed black men.

Brown said conversations about police and community relationships have ebbed and flowed for decades. Shootings by police — especially by white officers on minority suspects — often bring those discussions to the fore, he said.

“This conversation usually ends up being a conversation about all the racial inequalities in our country’s history, no matter what the facts of that incident are,” Brown said. “Police are often wedged in that. We’re representatives of government, and we still make house calls. So we’re the face of government in the community.”

Brown, a Dallas native, said many of his officers — some of whom are recruited outside Texas — don’t know the history of racial tensions in the city, which he hopes the community will understand.

“They don’t have a reference point for these tough, difficult narratives,” he said. “They’re just trying to stay alive.”

Brown has been pushing social media as a means to build relationships with the public. Likewise, leaders of the “We’re All In” initiative hope social media will spread the campaign’s message.

But the effort will feature traditional advertising, too. Jim Moroney, the publisher of The News and CEO of its parent company, A.H. Belo Corporation, agreed to run print ads in some of the company’s publications for free. Local television affiliates are also expected to run 30-second public service announcements.

The campaign has the support of the Dallas Police Association, which has been pushing its own pro-police message in recent weeks, including a public service announcement of its own starring Dallas Cowboys legend Tony Dorsett.

Ron Pinkston, the association’s president, said he is “very excited” to back Pickens’ campaign. He said his campaign and hers show “the public is giving a tremendous amount of support for Dallas law enforcement.”

Other associations also back the idea. Fraternal Order of Police president Richard Todd said “we can use all the help we can get right now.” Robert Arredondo, president of the National Latino Law Enforcement Organization’s Dallas chapter, said he believed the organizers’ “heart is in the right place” and the campaign can “help us win the public’s support back.”

Pickens, who is married to oil magnate T. Boone Pickens, serves as chair of Economic Partners Investing in Communities. The group wants to make Dallas neighborhoods safer for economic opportunity. Marine Lt. Col. Junior Ortiz, a former top Labor Department official, is EPIC’s executive director and has been helping Pickens lead the efforts.

Ortiz isn’t from Dallas but said he believed in the campaign’s message.

“I love the way Dallas comes together as a community to do what needs to be done,” he said.