Tasha Tsiaperas, Dallas News, Staff Writer
Connect with Tasha Tsiaperas
On Twitter Email
The seven people vying to become Dallas’ next chief of police know the challenges that face them if they land the top job: low retention and morale and rising crime rates.
The finalists, three of whom are from within the Dallas Police Department, are going through a three-day interview process this week. They toured police headquarters and the 911 call center Monday.
On Tuesday, they were interviewed by six panels of various Dallas leaders, including faith leaders and law enforcement officials, before meeting residents at an event Tuesday night at Dallas City Hall.
The interview panelists praised the finalists, saying they all were strong candidates.
“If they all want the job as bad as they all told us they did, a great chief was in the mix,” said Gary Griffith, a former City Council member and president of Safer Dallas, a police booster group.
Dallas police Sgt. Sheldon Smith, who was on an interviewing panel, said many officers are waiting to see who the next police chief is before deciding whether to stay in the department.
“We’re a city that has officers who are leaving,” he said.
The department is down to about 3,100 officers. Since October, 317 officers have left, and 67 more have told their bosses they plan to leave soon.
But Smith said the panelists were not disappointed with the candidates. He said the internal candidates “know the inner workings of the Police Department and the outside candidates, they did their homework.”
City Manager T.C. Broadnax met with each panel Tuesday to get feedback, but the hiring decision will ultimately be left to him.
Each candidate, including those from out-of-state, said that the job will be tough and that they will need to tackle lowering crime while also improving officers’ morale.
Detroit Deputy Police Chief Renee Hall said her city has faced major problems: bankruptcy, pension reform and police pay decreases.
Some of those problems don’t seem too far off from what Dallas faces.
Hall said that her fellow finalists were qualified but that she is the only one who has worked in a department that has succeeded after facing such problems.
“Detroit is a comeback city,” she said.
Like Hall, Los Angeles First Assistant Police Chief Michel Moore said his department has faced problems similar to the ones facing Dallas, including retention issues and strained community relationships.
“It’s an agency that from what I hear is hurting,” Moore said.
Seattle Deputy Police Chief Carmen Best said that many of the issues Dallas faces aren’t unique. Hiring enough officers, ensuring those officers reflect the diversity of the community and building trust between cops and the community are all challenges other large cities face.
She said she has spent almost half of her life in policing because “it’s a calling. It’s really about service.”
For Luther Reynolds, assistant chief of police in Montgomery County, Md., building a strong department is about creating a “great brand.”
Reynolds said that the best recruiters are in the Police Department. He said he will “create a culture of accountability” to help boost morale.
Dallas Deputy Chief Malik Aziz said that he knows the department and the community and would be able to balance the needs of both sides.
“It’s time for a chief here who can really embrace the community and the officers at the same time,” Aziz said.
And boosting morale would be a big part of that. Aziz described himself as a leader with an open-door policy. Officers are comfortable talking to him about their concerns.
“I care more about officers as people than some type of resource,” he said.
He’s not alone as a candidate who knows the department and the community well.
Deputy Police Chief Rick Watson, who oversees the Dallas’ north central patrol division, said the biggest challenge the next chief will face is manpower.
He said he would wait to see how many officers retire this year before making major decisions about how to shake up staffing.
“I put in for the job for the same reason I wanted to become a police officer, and that’s to make a difference,” Watson said.
Assistant Police Chief Gary Tittle, the department’s legislative coordinator, said his leadership is focused on building relationships.
“Change will come under my leadership. Status quo is not acceptable here,” Tittle said.