Dallas cops, just like the people they arrest, don’t want a record.
Officers with disciplinary infractions could lose out on desirable jobs and promotions, or get transferred to worse duties.
Now, the department will offer cops a chance at wiping one minor violation off their record every two years. Some of the eligible offenses include being late, missing court and being rude.
To clear the violation, the officer must attend a one-day class. The classes will cover broad life topics such as time management, ethics and emotional health. The goal is to nip misbehavior in the bud.
For Police Chief David Brown, the new protocol, which will start in February, is more constructive and recognizes that everyone makes mistakes at a time when police are under “hypercritical” scrutiny.
“We have to keep cops encouraged,” Brown said. “Cops risk their lives every day. For the past two years, our profession has just taken it on the chin. … We need to give an opportunity to make yourself whole again.”
The change comes after nearly two years of negotiations with officer associations. The Dallas Police Association initially approached commanders about following the model pioneered by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. That department allows deputies to be retrained instead of being given suspensions, which are issued for more serious violations.
“What we were trying to do was, instead of making the officer turn negative and turn sour, let’s make it a positive — let’s retrain him and make a better officer,” said Mike Mata, a Dallas Police Association vice president who was involved in the negotiations.
Suspensions greatly hurt officers, Mata said, not only by docking their pay, but also by lowering their seniority, which could affect their work hours and their eligibility for a raise.
But Brown said the city attorneys believed the city could be legally liable for officers not being adequately punished for serious policy violations. Plus, Brown said, he didn’t agree with that idea.
“We have to hold officers accountable when they violate our rules,” Brown said. “The public’s trust is just too important. When 1 or 2 percent don’t get held accountable, the rest of us look like we’re complicit.”
Limiting second chances to those who commit minor infractions makes perfect sense to Samuel Walker, a police accountability expert and a criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
“You don’t want to diminish the significance of serious misconduct,” Walker said. “If it merits a suspension, that ought to stick.”
Walker said Dallas’ plan sounds like a “very good idea.” He said it could help officers improve and keep them from feeling disgruntled or alienated from their department, a common issue with discipline.
“Historically, police discipline has always been negative — nothing constructive,” Walker said. “The message should be: You’re a valued employee, you made a mistake, we’re going to help you get better.”
Other Dallas officer groups praised the changes. George Aranda, director of the Dallas chapter of the National Latino Law Enforcement Organization, called the move “a step in the right direction.” He said he would try to persuade commanders to expand the program to officers who commit more serious violations.
Thomas Glover, president of the Black Police Association, said minor rules are enforced inconsistently in the department, so it’s only fair to allow officers with good intentions another chance at a clean record.