Six Dallas officers set to leave for Fort Worth Police Department

Where the West begins is increasingly where Dallas police careers end.

Six Dallas officers will join the Fort Worth Police Department on July 13, Fort Worth Sgt. Steve Enright said. The officers will be reuniting with eight of their former Dallas colleagues who left for Fort Worth in January.

That means 14 of 20 officers Fort Worth has hired in “lateral transfers” this year from other Texas police departments are from Dallas. Four are from Irving, one is from Wichita Falls and one is from San Angelo.

Because the officers are licensed by the state, they need only complete an abbreviated academy to catch them up on the way Fort Worth does things.

The losses are the latest setbacks for Dallas’ retention efforts and could be a boon to police associations ahead of next year’s pay and benefit negotiations with the city.

Dallas Police Chief David Brown said in an email Friday that he has been working on changing policies with officer associations and is improving communications in an effort to keep officers.

“We can always do better, and it is unfortunate we are losing officers to Fort Worth,” Brown said. “It appears that they have a very good lateral hiring program and an attractive starting pay.”

Dallas Police Association President Ron Pinkston said he is worried more officers will leave for Fort Worth unless Dallas is competitive in its pay and benefits.

“We should be taking other towns’ talent,” he said. “We’re supposed to be the bigger city with the better police department.”

Some of the officers who left Dallas in January to go to the department half the size cited complaints often heard from police associations in Dallas: low pay in the bigger city and a belief that the department’s command staff doesn’t adequately support the rank-and-file.

One officer who left in January said she decided to go after Brown fired Officer Jesus Martinez for a fight he had with a panhandler.

Martinez, who is deeply popular in Deep Ellum, was cleared by a grand jury in the confrontation, but he has been unsuccessful in his attempts to regain his job. City Manager A.C. Gonzalez denied his appeal.

Brown said commanders “do hold our officers to a very high standard of conduct and we demand a high level of performance as well.”

“I believe Fort Worth will do the same,” he said.

But some say money is also a factor, especially for officers who didn’t see regular pay jumps from 2009 to 2013.

Rookie Dallas officers start at about $9,000 a year less than in Fort Worth, which pays $52,176 to officers right out of the academy.

The pay gap for younger officers between Dallas and other North Texas cities is equally large, if not larger.

And one experienced Dallas officer who went to Fort Worth in January said he will make $11,000 more annually in Fort Worth than in Dallas.

Among the latest departing officers is Damon Cole, a seven-year veteran of the Dallas department.

Cole, a patrol officer, has often dressed up as Superman and Iron Man to mentor kids and lift the spirits of sick children. Earlier this year, he drove 11 hours to Illinois to spend time with a child who has a tumor in his stomach and raise money for the boy.

Dallas averages about 200 departures a year through retirement, resignations, firings and, occasionally, deaths.

But earlier this year, police officials said they were on pace to exceed that number. The city agreed to hire only 165 officers this fiscal year, meaning the department will be smaller next year because of attrition.

Chief Brown said he would cover some of the difference by hiring cheaper civilian employees to take desk and support jobs manned by Dallas officers. He said Friday that he will ask the City Council to hire more officers next budget year, which starts Oct. 1.

In addition to working with associations to loosen up on foot chase, Taser and promotional testing policies, Brown also asked City Council members recently for more support for the officers who put themselves in dangerous situations to combat violent crime.