Dallas Police Association wants answers on its reform plan

Officials with the city’s biggest police group believe their efforts to fix officer morale have been arrested.

Dallas Police Association officials said Wednesday that their 10-point proposal for “much-needed reforms,” such as flexible scheduling, changes to the use-of-force policy and speeding up of internal affairs investigations, has gone almost nowhere. The association released the plan in September after saying morale in the department had hit rock bottom.

Assistant Chief Tom Lawrence countered that he has worked on some of the issues but that he needs more guidance from all of the local police associations on what exactly they want.

“It’s disingenuous of them to say nothing is being done,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence spoke by phone Wednesday from Austin, where he was helping push a bill by state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, that would fund body cameras for the state’s police agencies. Lawrence said the body cams, which the association has vociferously supported, could help ease some of the associations’ concerns.

Lawrence said he has been in talks with association leaders about the department’s use-of-force policy, especially as it pertains to stun guns. A policy change could allow officers to use Tasers more freely. The department recently bought 2,250 new stun guns that officials believe are safer than the older generation.

But Dallas Police Association officials said the use-of-force discussion has yet to produce real results. And they also still don’t care for the chase policy, which was recently changed.

Ron Pinkston, the association’s president, wanted the foot pursuit policy — which forces officers through numerous considerations and restrictions before freeing them to give chase — to be a training guideline instead of a general order, which could lead to discipline for officers who don’t follow it.

“They changed three little things,” Pinkston said. “The policy itself still jeopardizes the safety of the citizens of Dallas.”

Lawrence said there are fewer chases now. But he said the policy change is positive because officers are finding safer ways to nab bad guys.

Association leaders said police commanders haven’t touched their other eight points: flexible scheduling for officers; a better promotional exam schedule; junking squad cars with more than 100,000 miles on the odometer; strengthening ethics; following the transfer policy; making clear requirements for the major and chief ranks; speeding up internal affairs investigations; and increasing transparency.

“Everything that would increase morale — he hasn’t changed,” Sgt. Michael Mata, a vice president of the association, said of Police Chief David Brown.

Mata said he “wouldn’t feel confident” that there will be any other movement on the policies.

Brown referred questions about the proposals to Lawrence, who said many of the association’s goals — such as increased transparency — are too vague. He also said some don’t require much action. For instance, he said, the department was behind on its promotion schedule but is catching up. He said other proposals could be looked at but are subject to the budgeting process.

Lawrence also said he has no plans to include the police associations on an advisory coalition of private citizens that the department put together because he wants to get that group’s feedback independently of officer groups. Pinkston, who has tried to get the association involved with the coalition, said Lawrence’s decision shows a lack of transparency by the department.

Lawrence also said he unsuccessfully tried to bring the city’s three other associations — the Black Police Association of Greater Dallas, the Dallas Fraternal Order of Police and the National Latino Law Enforcement Organization’s Dallas chapter — into the process.

The Dallas Police Association released its plan after conducting a members’ questionnaire in which 80 percent of 1,279 respondents rated their morale as low or the lowest it had ever been.

Mayor Mike Rawlings recently acknowledged that “morale of our police officers is not good” but attributed it to the national anti-police sentiment after officers’ fatal encounters with unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City.

And Brown, who is often at odds with the associations, has gone out of his way recently to express gratitude to the groups for their advocacy on behalf of officers. The chief and other civic leaders have also repeatedly thanked officers and vocally supported Operation Blue Shield, a pro-police campaign started by philanthropist Toni Brinker Pickens.

But Pinkston said the associations are “treated like children” on some of their policy recommendations.

“We’re not going away on this,” Pinkston said. “Morale is still as low as it’s ever been.”