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Chief Shows Professionalism in Response to Beating Case

Dallas Morning News via YellowBrix

September 16, 2010

DALLAS, TX – Walking from his office to the news conference at Dallas police headquarters Wednesday afternoon, Police Chief David Brown remembered his hat. He sent an aide back to retrieve it.

The chief wanted to appear in full uniform – and professional in every other way as a video of blatant police abuse was released to the public.

There’s no denying the appalling beating on the video. But the chief’s professionalism ought to go a long way in minimizing its collateral damage to the city.

“This won’t be tolerated,” the police chief said. And it sounded like a statement grounded in principle, not PR.

And referring three of your officers for criminal charges nicely backs up the words with action.

Of course, only time will tell whether some will try to inflame the situation and get themselves a little face time on TV. By now, that seems like a standard part of the drill.


Dallas Police Chief David Brown

But it’s hard to imagine that anyone could decry the abuse of police authority with any more conviction than the department’s own chief did.

There was a long wind-up to the release of the video, which you are already undoubtedly sick of seeing.

Its existence had been the subject of news stories for more than a week.

I was of two minds on how that could affect things. Would the wait only increase tension? Or would awareness undercut its impact?

I’m guessing the delay – and community-relations work by police in the meantime – will probably mute the response.

And before we go another step further, let’s salute the officer who anonymously alerted a supervisor to look at the dashcam the day after the incident.

That took courage.

Amazingly, 22 officers ended up at the scene that night. That’s troubling in itself. And it sure seems fair to ask why more notes of concern weren’t received.

But at least there was that one. And it really was the key that allowed Dallas police officials to get ahead of the story and the investigation, rather than finding themselves blindsided and playing defense.

Videotaped beating cases like this have blown up into disasters in other places for one of two reasons.

One is a tepid response from police. And Brown sure took away that factor with criminal charges and calling in the FBI.

The other thing that can ignite the fire is when it’s part of a pattern of racial or physical abuse. And it’s hard to make that case against the Dallas Police Department in recent years – thank you, David Kunkle.

But the case does fit another pattern that ought to concern us.

The R-word here isn’t race but rookie.

All six officers implicated in the case have been with the department for less than three years.

Dallas has seen far too much misconduct by new officers.

The problem was at its worst after hiring standards were lowered to rapidly expand the force and increase its racial diversity. But that was supposedly fixed.

Brown said Wednesday he has already begun to look at how young officers are being supervised in the field.

If the chief is criticized for anything, it may be that he didn’t emote enough at the news conference to satisfy our reality TV expectations.

A television reporter tried to coax him into talking about whatever “raw emotion” he felt.

“I don’t do raw emotion,” the chief replied calmly. “Some would argue that’s what got these officers where they are.”

He really didn’t even need the hat.

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