Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall speaks at a press conference.

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This Is What Can Happen to an Investigation When the Police Chief Leaves Unexpectedly

Dallas PD is examining its officers' Facebook posts. Let's look at the confusion and lack of transparency after Chief Hall went on medical leave.

On the morning of Saturday, July 6, North Dallas City Council member Lee Kleinman sent an email to Police Chief U. Reneé Hall and Assistant City Manager Jon Fortune. It was the day after the Dallas Police Department announced that a preliminary investigation of officer social media activity found 25 cops posting or sharing “material that was determined to be a potential violation of DPD’s General Orders and/or Code of Conduct.” Four were placed on administrative leave “based on the extreme nature of their posts.” Many involved racist, homophobic, and sexist language.

“(I) would be interested to see if there is a pattern between Officer membership in a particular association and the inappropriate use of social media,” Kleinman wrote, interested in whether certain unions bred institutional racism. He added another request a couple paragraphs later: “Furthermore, you may consider using the Citizen’s Police Review Board or the City Auditor or an outside organization to review your internal investigation.”

The 25 names were culled from 170 officers and alumni who had one month earlier appeared in the Plain View Project, a national research effort of departments in eight cities that looked for similar posts from police officers. PVP’s database of screenshots from those 170 officers includes a dizzying array. Some of it was blatant hatred, some of it was racism, and a lot of it celebrated police violence. Posts indicated that some officers viewed our high-crime areas as militarized war zones, with words and phrases like “exterminated” and “execute all involved” and “animals.”

PVP describes its findings as having discovered a “powerful subculture within American law enforcement—one that appears to disparage and dehumanize racial, ethnic, and religious minorities and celebrate the use of unlawful violence and discrimination.”

Two hours after Kleinman’s email, Hall replied, Cc’ing Fortune, Mayor Eric Johnson, and City Manager T.C. Broadnax, just as Kleinman had done.

“Thank you sir,” she wrote. “I will provide you that information. In the interest of unbiased investigation and checks and balances, we will ask them to review the investigation.”

That exchange, uncovered through an open records request, might have implied a quick and transparent move to discipline cops who spew racism or view their communities as war zones, an antithesis to the community policing approach city leaders maintain can help rebuild trust within communities of color.

But about 10 days later, Hall went on medical leave. And communication got choppy. Fortune sent an email to Kleinman on July 19, threading in interim chief David Pughes. Despite being included on Hall’s response, Fortune said he wasn’t certain whether Hall had ever gotten back to Kleinman. “That said, I have asked DPD to look into your question, so that we can (get) back to you as soon as possible with a response,” he wrote.

Kleinman never heard a definitive answer. And despite assurances in its July 5 post that DPD would provide updates “throughout the investigations,” the public has been kept in the dark, as well. The silence underscores the department’s chaotic summer, as the force tries to overcome a violent crime streak the city hasn’t seen in years while a new audit decries the way its depleted staff has been used. It also speaks to what happens when the head of an organization in turmoil disappears, with no time table for return. (She returned on Monday.)

DPD would eventually say that the department’s Internal Affairs Division identified 34 officers in all. It hasn’t been stated plainly, but the implication is that the extra nine officers were not part of PVP’s group, suggesting DPD took the opportunity to broadly audit officer Facebook activity. Those 34 officers have been asked to provide “statements regarding their individual posts as it relates to this investigation.”

Major Michael Igo declined to answer specific questions about the investigation for this story, including whether those officer statements have been submitted, when the results of the investigation may become public, and whether additional disciplinary action will be forthcoming. He did, however, clarify that DPD’s Internal Affairs Division “will have complete investigative responsibility for this investigation.”

Of course, there is one thing about Kleinman’s request. He suggested the Citizen’s Police Review Board. But City Council voted in April to change how police oversight works in Dallas, creating a strengthened body called the Community Police Oversight Board, with full-time employees yet to be hired.

In an email, Fortune says the city will hire the head of that office by October. Regarding plans to use the board to monitor the Facebook investigation, he says, “We will continue to evaluate this option at the conclusion of the Internal Affairs Investigation, and once the new Police Monitor is in place.”

Fortune has yet to respond to follow-ups about involving the city auditor and, for that matter, who would’ve made the decision to move forward sans-outside investigative entity while Hall was away. We’ve also reached out to the chief for comment. This story will be updated if responses come in.

Through it all, Kleinman says he’s comfortable with the response Igo sent to us.

“There are a few more pressing issues like medical leave and DPS,” he says. “So I’m being patient.”

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