Dallas Police Recruitment Call Answered, But Pay Issues Are A Concern | KERA News

Dallas Police Recruitment Call Answered, But Pay Issues Are A Concern

Aug 3, 2016
Originally published on August 4, 2016 12:03 pm

It's been almost a month since Micah Xavier Johnson murdered five Dallas police officers and wounded nine others following a protest march. In the days that followed, the city's white mayor, Mike Rawlings, and black police chief, David Brown, appeared together openly grieving, offering words of consolation and praising the bravery of their officers.

In one memorable moment, Brown offered an invitation to the city's young people: "We're hiring, we're hiring. Get off that protest line and put an application in. And we'll put you in your neighborhood, we will help you resolve some of the problems you're protesting about."

Since then the Dallas Police Department has been getting an average of 40 applications every day.

Ironically, in the year before the shooting, Brown had been subject to pointed criticism that he was not a strong enough advocate for the department.

Pay is the main issue, and Dallas police officers have been abandoning ship in stunning numbers. Since Oct. 1, 2015, some 219 officers — out of a force of 3,400 — have left, dozens of them for better-paying North Texas cities. Fort Worth alone happily snagged eight veterans who got as much as a $15,000 raise.

Starting salary for a police officer in Dallas is $45,000 (or $48,000 with a four-year college degree). Compare that to Fort Worth, with a starting salary of $52,000, and Frisco, which pays $60,000.

The Dallas Police Department declined NPR's interview requests, but Dan Pinkston, president of the Dallas Police Association, says the city has become a de facto law enforcement farm team.

"It takes about four to five years for a young officer to really become knowledgeable where he can go out and do that job on his own. Those are the guys that are out there answering the day-to-day calls," Pinkston says.

And, he adds, those are the officers who are leaving. In this growing city, the police department has taken a back seat to new schools, repaved roads and the mind-boggling cost of indigent care at the county hospital.

But the ambush has changed those priorities. Still, like many American cities, there remain real tensions between the police department and Dallas' minority community.

"We're not saying that blues lives don't matter or white lives don't matter," says the Rev. Gerald Britt. "What we're saying is, we need you to look at what's happening to us. There's an element within law enforcement which don't care about our lives."

Britt served as pastor of New Mount Moriah Baptist Church in South Dallas for two decades. Now he's vice president at City Square, a research and advocacy organization for Dallas' poor.

He says improving the starting salary for police officers is the first thing that needs to happen.

"That is another way you hold people accountable, you pay them what the job is worth," he says.

Raise negotiations began in earnest Wednesday, as the leaders of the Dallas fire and police unions made their case before the mayor and city council. A raise is almost certainly in the offing. The question is whether it will be for new officers only or the department as a whole.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Dallas Police Chief David Brown held the nation's attention in the days after five police officers were killed by a gunman during a peaceful protest. He praised the bravery of the law enforcement on the scene and offered this invitation to the city's young people.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHIEF DAVID BROWN: We're hiring. We're hiring. Get off that protest line and put an application in, and we'll put you in your neighborhood. We will help you resolve some of the problems you're protesting about.

MCEVERS: Since then, the Dallas Police Department has gotten, on average, 40 applications a day. NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: At 8:58 p.m. on July 7, a march of about 1,000 protesters was coming to an end in downtown as the brutal Dallas heat was beginning to give way to the first cool hint of night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Market and Lamar. Assist officer, shots fired.

GOODWYN: Suddenly, a cacophony of gunfire. And police officers and protesters began to fall.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yeah, we’ve got a guy with a long rifle. We don’t know where the hell he’s at. Parking garage.

MIKE RAWLINGS: I realized very quickly that we were entering a moment of great tragedy for the city.

GOODWYN: During that long, long night and in the days that followed, the city's white mayor, Mike Rawlings, and black police chief, David Brown, appeared together offering words of consolation, openly grieving and blaming no one other than the now-dead shooter. The two set a tone that has largely endured in this racially divided city. Rawlings says the chief's composure and values shone through.

RAWLINGS: He has been a leader in de-escalation in this country. And he caught some grief for it, making sure that people's rights were upheld. And I think this was a moment of truth for him.

GOODWYN: It's a bit ironic because in the year before the shooting, Chief Brown had been subject to pointed criticism. The charge? Not being a strong enough advocate for the department. Pay is the main issue, and Dallas police officers have been abandoning ship in stunning numbers. Since October 1, 219 officers have left, dozens of them for better-paying North Texas cities. Fort Worth alone happily snagged eight veterans who got as much as a $15,000 raise. The department declined NPR's interview requests but Dan Pinkston, president of the Dallas Police Association, says Dallas has become a de facto law enforcement farm team.

DAN PINKSTON: It takes about four to five years for a young officer to really become knowledgeable where he can go out and do that job on his own. Those are the guys that are out there answering the day-to-day calls.

GOODWYN: And Pinkston says these are the officers who are leaving. In this growing city, the police department has taken a backseat to new schools, repaved roads and the mind-boggling cost of indigent care at the county hospital. But the ambush is changing those priorities. Still, like many American cities, there remain real tensions between the police department and Dallas's minority community.

GERALD BRITT: We're not saying that blue lives don't matter or white lives don't matter.

GOODWYN: For two decades, Reverend Gerald Britt was the pastor of New Mount Moriah Baptist Church in south Dallas. Now he's vice president at CitySquare, a research and advocacy organization for Dallas's poor.

BRITT: What we're saying is we need you to look at what's happening to us. There is an element within law enforcement which don't care about our lives.

GOODWYN: When asked what has to change first, Britt interestingly says this.

BRITT: Increase the pay for starting police officers because that is another way you hold people accountable. You pay them what the job is worth.

GOODWYN: This afternoon, pay raise negotiations begin in earnest as the leaders of the Dallas fire and police unions make their case before the mayor and city council. A raise is almost certainly in the offing. The question is whether it will be only for new officers or the department as a whole. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.