Officer Paints a New Public Image for Texas LE
Dallas police Officer Cat Lafitte is sick of people spitting and glaring at her, so she decided to paint a pillar in Deep Ellum as a positive gesture.
Dallas Morning News via YellowBrix
September 20, 2010
DALLAS, TX – Dallas police Officer Cat Lafitte is only 31, but she longs for the 1950s, when the nostalgic public image of law enforcement was the friendly neighborhood patrol officer.
Dallas police Officer Cat Lafitte is sick of people spitting and glaring at her, so she decided to paint a pillar in Deep Ellum as a positive gesture. ‘If I could plant one little seed in someone’s head that the police are the good guys, I would consider myself to be successful in this deal.’
It’s different now, she said. People spit or glare when she and her partner pass in a patrol car.
So when Lafitte spotted artists painting pillars under the freeway at Deep Ellum, she asked for her own pillar to paint the portrait of a police officer with the message “Dallas Police Department Welcomes You to Deep Ellum.”
“I know the law-abiding people don’t hate us, but just dealing with the criminal element, we get a lot of hate,” she said. “If I could plant one little seed in someone’s head that the police are the good guys, I would consider myself to be successful in this deal.”
Lafitte, who was an art/science major in college, intends her artwork to be a positive gesture but plans to cover it with an anti-graffiti clear coat to make it easier to wash off any vandalism. She hopes that won’t be necessary.
Motorists passing through the intersection at Good-Latimer Expressway and Canton Street, where she was working last week, honked and gave her the thumbs-up.
Lafitte’s request to paint was approved by her supervisors pending review of the final image. The painting is complete except for the words “Dallas Police Department” and any detail that identifies the person as a Dallas officer.
Once the department signs off on the final image, those last details will be added, said Deputy Chief Mike Genovesi, commander of the Central Patrol Division where Lafitte works.
“The Police Department’s concern is that it be represented professionally and not in a negative way,” he said. “That’s the primary concern. I don’t believe the message is in any way controversial.”
Her goodwill gesture comes as the department is dealing with the fallout of a police beating caught on dash-cam video. Three officers face criminal charges and others are being investigated after a motorcyclist was beaten following a chase Sept. 5.
In response to online comments criticizing the police, Lafitte responded: “To the anti-police folks: I’m not going to lie and say that we are all perfect all the time. … Yes, there are some bad apples, they get caught and it’s smeared all over the news. But I can assure you they are the minority. The guys I work with, that I trust my life with every day, are good, hard-working men and women that are truly trying to do the right thing.”
Lafitte was allowed to paint during two work shifts last week. And, she said, the police union pitched in to help pay for paint.
“The Fraternal Order of Police gave me $250 in supplies and I blew through it,” she said Tuesday. “I have $20 left. When I get paid Friday, I’ll have to pay for the clear coat myself.”
She credits Genovesi with taking it up the line for her.
Lafitte said she proposed painting an officer in an old-fashioned pin-up pose, but that didn’t fly.
“Let’s just say the uniform was far from regulation on that one,” Genovesi said.
Instead, she painted a generic officer in uniform.
“The neighborhood is about giving people a chance to showcase their talents,” said Barry Annino, president of the Deep Ellum Foundation, which set up the pillar-painting project. “Cat Lafitte may be an indication that there is more talent at DPD than many realize.”
The portrait of the officer takes up one side of Lafitte’s pillar. She painted the other sides with Lady Justice, a surrealist-style scene and a list of advice.
“I have been through so much and I’ve come so far in my life. I just put down some advice for people,” she said. Among her nuggets of wisdom: “Hate corrodes the vessel that carries it,” and “Use your freakin turn signal, people!”
Lafitte, who grew up in rural Wise County, said she got her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Texas hoping to produce medical illustrations. Instead, she found herself working at a hospital as a nursing assistant.
“One night I had all my babies [patients] in bed and was going through the classifieds when I found one that said, ‘Police work, will train.’ " She hesitated, she said, because she was pretty wild as a youth.
But here she is today: an officer of six years currently assigned to the paddy wagon, an aspiring graphic novelist, a roller derby skater, a single mother to a 2-year-old named Moxy, a Deep Ellum artist – and a police ambassador.