What Dallas Cops Really Think
Here's the survey that Chief Terrell Bolton tried to stop. It's now clear why. His troops are suffering from low morale, and they don't have confidence in their leader—all this while crime rates continue to climb.
Several months ago, a handful of cops paid a visit to the D Magazine office. They wanted to talk. By that time, a picture of the Dallas Police Department in disarray had already begun to develop. Chief Terrell Bolton’s inept handling of the fake drug scandal had launched an FBI inventigation. Reports were beginning to surface that showed crime in Dallas was up and arrests were way down (see below).
Click here to see the complete survey results.
Despite the three smaller union’s declining to participate, the racial makeup of the survey’s respondents closely matched that of the department—with one exception. While we received responses from about 14 percent of the sworn black officers on the force, only 8 percent of the survey respondents were black, compared to a department that is 23 percent black. Overall, we received 1,189 responses, representing 40 percent of the sworn officers in the department.
The cops wanted to talk about why the picture looked the way it did. They wanted to talk about how much they hated their jobs.
"Every cop has a little light inside him," one 20-year veteran said, making a fist over his chest. "That light is your drive to go out there and get the bad guys. I’m here to tell you, when I look around the force, that light is out. Man, it’s just gone."
Since that meeting, there have appeared several anecdotal accounts, most notably in the Dallas Observer, of low morale in the department, of cops stymied by a lack of leadership. But that’s all they were: anecdotes, stories told by a few disgruntled cops. So D Magazine set out to gauge the attitude of the entire police force. To our knowledge, no news organization anywhere has gone to the cops themselves to ask them what they think and how they feel. We were not encouraged by the results of our survey—or by the process of conducting it.
Our first step was to enlist the help of the largest of the four unions of Dallas police, the Dallas Police Association, which represents about 2,400 of the approximately 3,000 sworn officers in the department. Glenn White, a senior corporal and president of the DPA, agreed to let D mail its survey to the association’s members. He and his staff also suggested minor changes to the wording of several questions. The questions themselves were formulated by D, based on hours of interviews with police officers about what issues concerned them most.
After the DPA agreed to help, when the survey was still in a draft form, D contacted the other three Dallas police unions: the Greater Dallas Latino Peace Officers Association (representing 250 sworn, active officers), the Texas Peace Officers Association (400, mostly black), and the Dallas Fraternal Order of Police (625). Each was asked to participate and given the opportunity to offer as much input on the questions as had the DPA. Each declined.
Eventually, the heads of the three holdout organizations—respectively, Sergeant Gilberto Cerda, Sergeant Thomas Glover, and Officer Michael Walton—wrote a letter to D explaining their decision. It read, in part:
We feel that the questions are far from being impartial and are not geared to gain a true sense of the overall feelings of the officers who serve the citizens of Dallas. ... D Magazine has not shown us any proof of previous support for the Dallas Police Department and did not solicit our help in compiling the survey, yet now you want our help in carrying out some unknown agenda. ... This is clearly an attempt to reshift focus of the department from all the things Laura Miller has done. ... We would hope that your magazine will show some sense of professionalism by printing a clear disclaimer noting that our organizations did not participate in this survey.
The survey process went forward, despite the objections of the smaller police organizations—and the chief himself. Days before the survey was to hit the mail, Chief Terrell Bolton called Glenn White and pressured him not to make the DPA’s member list available to D. White stood firm, and 2,403 surveys were hand-carried to the DPA’s offices for the affixing of mailing labels, because the association, understandably, would not let its membership database leave the premises. The DPA even insisted on bringing the envelopes to the post office, so that the names and addresses of its members would never be in control of anyone but the association and the USPS.
Of the 2,403 surveys mailed out, D received an overwhelming 1,189 in response—many with multiple typewritten pages attached because the comments space on the survey didn’t provide the officers enough room to outline everything that they think is wrong with the department. The surveys were returned in postage-paid envelopes, and they were anonymous, asking each cop only for basic demographic information about length of service, race, and gender. Where this survey generated an almost 50 percent response rate, an average unsolicited, mailed opinion survey, with no financial incentive offered, might get 3 percent. And we received responses from a full 40 percent of the entire Dallas Police Department.
D thanks every cop who took the time to complete his or her survey. We hope the results can be used to make the department a better place to work and the city a safer place to live. We apologize to every police officer whose union boss denied him the opportunity to make his voice heard.
COPS SPEAK OUT, IN THEIR OWN WORDS
There were two fill-in-the-blank questions on the survey—one asking cops to tell us what they like about the department and the other asking them what they dislike. The following are excerpts of what the cops told us, with their comments applied to the survey questions they address.
"When Bolton was given the job of chief, he demoted a large portion of the command staff to their civil service rank. Five of the nine demoted were former captains. He replaced those commanders with people who had little supervision or command experience. The department as a whole has suffered."
"He can’t even speak in public without embarrassing himself or the department.That’s why we have Janice [Houston, Bolton’s $95,000-per-year civilian spokesperson]!"
"I equate Bolton with Nixon. A true Machiavellian who surrounds himself with 24-karat idiots."
"The chief of police and many on his command staff are simply not competent. Most, if not all, are nice, well-meaning people, but they are not qualified nor up to the task required of them."
"Bolton’s tenure has been a kakistocracy in the truest sense: leadership by the least qualified to lead."
"No one has the guts to tell the emperor that he has no clothes for fear of retribution and loss of rank or desirable assignment."
"I have no motivation to serve this falsehood of a man we call ’Chief.’"
"The only places you see more pictures of the man in charge is Baghdad."
"Even if Bolton were to leave tomorrow, there is no way to correct the damage he’s created."
"Bolton has promoted supervisors that were ineffective at lower ranks, and their inability has only been magnified with promotion. One of the assistant chiefs failed the promotional exam twice, and another was about to be cited for cowardice."
"The qualification you need for most positions in the police department is having black skin."
"The ’good ole boy’ system is still in place, no matter what race or color."
"Nothing has changed since I joined the department in 1981, except the color of favoritism. The ’good ole boy’ system has gone from white to black."
"What destroyed the leadership of the department was no longer promoting on the basis of a test. The test itself was colorblind. While you may not have agreed with supervision at that time, at least you knew they had taken a fair test and legitimately got their positions."
"I know that if I want to get promoted, I will have to score much, much better on tests than females or minorities."
"Even though I am a minority, I am tired of certain groups using the race issue to get out of things, to get things for themselves, and to get other officers in trouble. Just tired of all that crap that goes on every day—transfers, promotions, layoffs, etc."
"We’ve gone from the ’good ole boy network’ to the ’homeboy network.’ It’s a slap in the face to all minorities who have earned their rank. We don’t need handouts."
"The Physical Evidence section had a position for sergeant. It was advertised and three sergeants applied. All three were white. No black or Hispanic candidates applied. When the interviews were conducted and sent up, the list was denied, returned, and the position reopened. Suddenly, some black candidates applied (they were contacted and told to apply). A black sergeant was eventually selected. A grievance was filed, and the grievance board stated the white sergeants had been aggrieved. They were denied their desired correction, and now a lawsuit (another one) has been filed."
"All Dallas police officers used to bleed blue; now they bleed white, black, or brown."
"Only if a potential officer wanted to put up with the environment, in the hope things will get better, while working toward a decent pension."
"Dallas once was a department that set the standards other departments followed. Now, we just idle along with no clear direction."
"With the events of the past two years, I could not in good conscience recommend employment with the DPD to any individual."
"Too much time invested to leave and too near a good retirement."
"The current pension system is the only thing keeping me in Dallas till the end of my career."
"I’m leaving! Enough is enough!"
"I have no trust in our leadership in the police department."
"As a supervisor, I am not allowed to issue summary discipline for minor infractions without having prior approval."
"This department is completely void of leadership above the rank of lieutenant."
"I like having such incompetent leadership that it creates mass confusion and thus allows me to perform my job as I choose."
"Command decisions change like the weather. What was a good practice yesterday isn’t today."
"From the rank of lieutenant and up, the attitude seems to be, ’The floggings will continue until morale improves.’"
"The training is good, and the department tries to implement new training as quickly as possible, such as our rapid rescue course, which is used to react to an incident like Columbine."
"Detectives are routinely paying their own way for training that keeps our skills up-to-date with the changing technologies."
"Recruits use Dallas for training, then apply elsewhere."
Recruits use Dallas for training, then apply elsewhere."
"I have not seen or received any training or preparation in case of a terrorist attack or a catastrophic event like 9/11."
"You get weapons training once a year and defensive tactics once every two years. It’s not enough."
"The methods that are taught for straight-arm bar takedowns, etc., are not always reasonable or effective and do not apply to a fleeing suspect. Officers now do not know what they can or cannot do to capture a suspect without getting disciplined if a complaint is made."
"It’s a joke. An officer in our station is being disciplined because he stated in a report that he ’tackled’ a suspect who was fleeing on foot. Administration said he is being disciplined because the Academy doesn’t teach tackling. When asked what method they do teach to stop a fleeing suspect, they can give no answer. So we don’t know how to stop a fleeing suspect without being disciplined."
"The officers from Northwest Patrol were fired for apprehending a dangerous felon after a car chase that was televised. Why should I go out of my way to arrest a felony suspect if I will just be fired?" (Assistant City Manager Ramon Miguez overturned Bolton’s decision and reinstated officers Ricardo Rodriquez, James Walker, and Gregory Fanucci in March.)
"City management wants top officers for the price of security guards. I don’t do anything for the city’s benefit because I refuse to take care of them when they don’t take care of us."
"I take the oath seriously. I feel responsible and accountable to the citizens of Dallas. I wish city management and the police administration felt the same for me."
"The PDA report is no different from a quota system. It’s supposed to be illegal." (The report assigns a point system to police work: half a point awarded for a parking citation, 2.08 points for answering a call, 2.75 points for a felony arrest, etc.)
"I dislike the fact that even though the toughest job in police work is patrol, it is a position which is used as a form of punishment for officers who screw up, thus tainting the pool of great officers."
"One of the sergeants that Bolton promoted to chief had been a sergeant less than two years and was not a very good sergeant. Her qualifications were she was Korean and female. I like her as a person, but she is incompetent as a chief."
"My supervisor won her position through court settlement. Now she no longer works (lazy)."
"Take a ride with Deputy Chief Zack Belton. Then ask yourself if he should even have a driver’s license. Come to think of it, Zack might not be able to drive for you because he may still be on non-driving status because of his wrecks and may still have a sergeant driving him around." (Belton has been involved in 17 accidents, eight of which were ruled preventable. He has been stripped of his driving privileges twice, for years at a time, during which period other city employees had to drive him to crime scenes. His driving privileges were reinstated last year.)
"The Northwest Division chief [June Kim-Edwards] barely speaks English."
"Command staff are completely out of touch with patrol. They don’t even know how to turn on computers in patrol cars."
"The city has underpaid me since 1979, per city charter. Further, the new paycheck is unreadable and mistake-ridden."
"The smaller departments surrounding Dallas are better equipped, have a stronger field force strength at any given time, oftentimes carry less of a work load, and at the same time, make 18-20 percent higher salaries."
"When suburban cities deal with less crime, have far fewer calls to answer, and overall deal with citizens that don’t detest them, it is hard to look forward to coming to work in Dallas for less pay than they get."
"Mayor Miller is a bean counter with no consideration or concern for the city’s employees."
"I never understood why any of the police groups supported her when she ran. As a reporter, she did nothing but write negative articles about the police. So when she lied and turned on us, everyone was surprised."
"There’s no support from City Hall or the citizens. They will not be happy until they take away all of our benefits and reduce our pension."
"The 5 percent pay raise ’Liar’ Miller gave us was offset by higher insurance premiums to us (not to the city) and the end of our longevity incentive pay. I took a 3 percent pay cut."
"What would it hurt if the mayor stood behind the police department? If she raised taxes with the sole purpose of giving to the city employees, I think citizens would back the idea."
"I dislike our IAD. If the citizens of Dallas want the most protection, then the officers can’t feel like they will get in trouble for every little thing. The common practice today is not to work hard because someone will complain on you for the littlest thing. Instead of the department backing you up, they hang you out."
"I avoid work to keep from going to IAD because of proven unfair treatment."
"It seems the department polices its own people more than it does the public."
"Chief Bolton continues to refuse us the right to file charges against citizens who come to the IAD and lie in their complaints. A false report to a peace officer is a penal code charge. We can get fired for lying on an IAD investigation. Citizens get nothing for telling a lie on us."
"I hate having to put on my uniform."
"I have over 20 years on the force and am one of the senior officers at my station, yet I work third watch and can’t get days before I retire (in five years)!"
"In years past, we stayed on our beats. Today I go days at a time without seeing my beat because I am encouraged to answer as many calls as possible, no matter where they are. I routinely spend 20 minutes travel time on each call."
"When I was hired in 1981, the department was one of the best in the country. Now it is the laughing stock of the Metroplex. I am truly ashamed to be a member of it."
"I used to love this job. You couldn’t get me out of my uniform. But now, every day, I struggle to put this uniform on."
"The force Dallas had 20 years ago is gone. The new rule is ’Don’t do much unless you’re told to.’"
“There are not enough officers at any level to perform effective police service. Patrol officers have precious little time to look for criminals. Dallas is a very dangerous city. The crime rate is much higher than reported.”
“Since I’ve been with the department, crime has drastically increased—so much so that I would not live in the city limits of Dallas with a family.”
“I do not like the department telling the public that crime has decreased. Crime is on the increase. I know. I work the streets.”
“If the average person knew how bad things really are, they would flee the city as if it were a third-world country under attack.”
“We have the highest robbery rate in the country yet we are pushing initiatives to stop speeding and prostitution?”
“I am ashamed. I do everything I can to keep someone from knowing I’m with the DPD because we have become the laughing stock of the Metroplex.”
“I feel as if we are in quicksand. The morale just keeps getting lower and lower.”
“It is like working inside a cartoon.”
“I can’t bring myself to a point of not caring. That’s why it hurts so much.”
“I know an officer who was shot twice. The first shot went through his hip area. The second shot struck his pager on his gun belt. He was disciplined for wearing an unauthorized pager on his belt. He was wearing that same pager for years and never got in trouble until he got shot. The point is, the administration always feels that they have to discipline no matter what the circumstances are.”
“I no longer admit to people that I am a Dallas Police officer.”
“I used to love my job. Now, I just need my job.”
Tell us what you like about the department and how it adds to the effectiveness of your work.
“The pension is the main benefit that keeps me here.”
“I like the determination of the veteran officers—who have been here long enough that leaving is not a viable option—who work hard, uphold the law, and are motivated.”
“It amazes me how dedicated my peers remain in spite of their low morale.”
“The ability of operational personnel, patrol officers, SWAT, traffic, detectives, and their sergeants and lieutenants to do their job with little help from the command staff or city management. These men and women are the only ones keeping this sinking ship afloat.”
“The new headquarters should be nice.”
“Watching the clowns run the circus provides me with a great deal of entertainment.”
“I like the activity in Dallas. Lots of crime means lots of fun.”
“I do like Dallas’ uniforms.”
Tell us what you dislike about the department and how it detracts from the effectiveness of your work.
“The department operates reactively according to the political winds. For example, the city knew the hazards with the Crown Victoria for several years and did nothing. It took pressure after an officer died to do something.”
“It takes way too long for something to go up and down the chain to get the simplest answer. Aprivate business would fold operating like this.”
“I wanted to be a police officer all my life. I graduated summa cum laude from a respected university with a degree in criminal justice. This department has sucked dry any love I had
for this job or this city. I am taking another job, where I’ll be making two and a half times more
money. It’s not the money, it’s the lack of appreciation for what I gave this department.”
“I am more concerned and stressed by the command staff than I am by criminals who may want to fight or kill me!”