As the nation reels from the sniper attack in Dallas that killed five police officers and wounded seven others and two civilians, Dallas Police Chief David Brown vowed Friday that the senseless violence wouldn’t change the city’s community relations efforts.
“We won’t militarize our policing standards, but we will do it in a much safer way,” Brown said at a press conference. “We are not going to let a coward who would ambush police officers change our democracy. Our city, our country, is better than that.”
By many accounts, the Dallas Police Department is a national example for other cities looking to work with protesters and the larger community to reduce violence.
After the department began training officers in de-escalation tactics, excessive-force complaints plummeted from 147 in 2009 to 53 in 2014. Along with that, notes BuzzFeed News, the city’s overall rate of arrests has declined, along with the murder rate, which hit an 80-year low in 2014.
Prior to Thursday’s violence, Dallas police officers were posing for pictures with the protesters.
“We’ve had this kind of impact basically through training, community policing and holding officers accountable,” Brown told The Dallas Morning News in 2015, explaining the substantial shift. “This is the most dramatic development in policing anywhere in the country.”
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings echoed that sentiment on Friday, telling reporters that Dallas has fewer police-involved shootings than any other large American city.
“This police department trained in de-escalation far before cities across America did it,” Rawlings said. “We are one of the premier community policing cities in the country. We are working hard to improve, and there’s always room for improvement. But we are best in class we feel.”
We are not going to let a coward who would ambush police officers change our democracy. Dallas Police Chief David Brown
Perhaps the most telling expression of this ethos comes from Maj. Max Geron, a security studies scholar who heads up the Dallas Police Department’s media relations department.
Following the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, Geron told The Washington Post the “ideal police response to a protest is no response at all,” citing research he completed for his master’s thesis.
“Most protesters will meet, protest, and go home when they feel they’ve made their point. If they aren’t breaking any laws, they can be left to express themselves,” Geron explained.
“When you establish arbitrary rules that have no basis in law, the police then feel they have to enforce those rules or they look illegitimate. They can set these rules with the best of intentions, but they just end up creating more problems for themselves,” he added. “You want to let people exercise their constitutional rights without interference.”
Trust is hard to earn and easy to lose. Dallas Police Chief David Brown
In addition to reconfigured police training, Brown has also emphasized transparency.
After the July 2012 shooting of an unarmed black man sparked outrage, Brown credited an honest, open news conference for helping to calm tensions. “We answered every question from reporters,” he told The Dallas Morning News at the time. “The community returned to calm. The city calmed down.”
“Trust is hard to earn and easy to lose,” he added.
This spring, the force announced it would join a small group of other departments across the country and begin tracking and publicly releasing data for all officer-involved shootings, with the goal of building trust.
“We try our best to be transparent — and I can tell you that not all cops like it,” Brown said. “It does open us up to criticism, threats and exposure of every mistake we make. But it’s the right thing to do.”
This story was updated after a post on social media was deleted by the user.
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