Sgt. Mike Mata is effectively the (non-anonymous) voice of Dallas police officers. He’s the head of the Dallas Police Association, which counts about 83 percent of the force among its ranks. He’s the one navigating city politics and negotiating with elected representatives. He shows up at police-involved shootings and, somewhat controversially, advises officers until their attorneys arrive. And when reporters need a quote reflecting the rank and file, it’s usually Mata’s name you’ll find in print.
With all the public safety news as of late—an alarming increase in murders and violent crime, hiring issues, the long-awaited results of an investigation into the vice unit, and concern about the chief’s performance—we wanted to kick off our year of EarBurner podcasts with someone who can speak to the status of the department. So Mata joined us at Table No. 1 at the Old Monk to talk about all this and more. In lieu of show notes, I’ve transcribed the podcast and will put highlights after the jump.
These have been edited for length and clarity. On the relationship between the Dallas Police Association and Chief Hall:
Tim Rogers: Mike, you and the DPA, you don’t seem to be big fans of Chief Hall. Fair to say?
Mike Mata: I think everybody would, who has been here in the past … through Ron Pinkston, the past president, and Glenn White before, you know (that) when the DPA decides to come out against the chief, they come out pretty hard. And you haven’t seen that from me. Okay. You know, I was very welcoming with Hall when she got here. We even flew to Detroit to welcome her and and even attended her own retirement party because I truly needed her to succeed. And I was very honest with her. You have to succeed. We’ve had so much problems here within the city of Dallas, with the crime rate and losing so many officers that there was no, there was no room for failure. We had to (succeed). And so I told her, I’m going to bet you 100 percent, I’m going to do whatever I can to help you.
She’s been here a little over two and a half years. Well, the first two years you didn’t hear me coming out, banging on the drum, you know, I tried to support her the best I could. I talked to her as much as I could that she would listen to. Now you’ve got that drum kind of swelling on your hip little bit now. Absolutely. Because now we’re at a point, you know, your tenure for a chief is about four years, usually no more than five. So she’s well into two and a half, you know, over midway … And at some point we have to have results and you can’t keep making the same mistakes. You know, you guys have seen the mistakes that she has made, whether it’s on video or whether it’s on in speeches and saying the wrong things, like, you know, criminals, we have to understand that violent criminals go out and it’s not their fault that they commit violent crimes, that they’re forced to do so.
I think that’s a horrible thing to say. … The bigger thing here is that you were brought here to produce. You came from Detroit and sold yourself to the council, to the rank and file, to the mayor, the past mayor, that we had all the same problems as in Detroit. “And I was an integral part of fixing and Detroit and I can do it here.” Well, two and a half year laters two and a half years later. Not only has she not done that, it’s gotten worse. So at some point we have to correct the ship.
At the end of last year, Mayor Eric Johnson ordered Chief Hall to develop a plan to return the city back to its lower crime levels of 2014. Tim asked Mata about that edict, one day after a woman was shot while sitting in her vehicle at a stoplight near Klyde Warren Park.
Rogers: What could anybody have done? We don’t know what happened prior to that shooting, but what could anybody have done, what could any police officer have done to prevent that?
Mata: There are those crimes of passion and I would say that’s a crime of passion. Cause I would probably say that had something to had some do with road rage or some kind of connection. It’s very rare that it’s completely random like that, but, you’re gonna have those percentages of aggravated assaults and murders that fall into those categories. But you’re also going to have a much larger percentage of murders and aggravated assaults that come from drugs, gangs, and gun violence. That’s your larger crusade.
That’s what you can control and you can’t control that. And the, the issue here is, is that it’s her job to structure the department. It’s her job to maintain levels in certain proactive units. She let those units fall or drastically reduced them herself, be it the gang unit, narcotics, and traffic.
Earlier this week, Hall announced that 22 vice cops had been disciplined related to evidence handling and misusing money spent in illegal gambling operations. Here’s Mata on that. We discussed it a few days before the results were announced.
Mata: She completely dissolved vice, which you know, it doesn’t take over a thousand days to figure out what happened. Okay? Those investigations have been done and completed for over seven months. So why hasn’t it come to fruition?
Rogers: Well where are we with vice? Right?I thought it had been reconstituted and there were new vice cops.
Mata: Oh yeah. But the other 16 vice detectives when she got here the very first month, she said that, you know, there was possible criminal activity and (there were) all these problems there.
It’s been almost three years and nothing has come out of there. You want to know why? Because those cops didn’t do anything wrong. It was an institutional problem. It was a, it was a departmental problem that was in the process of being fixed. But when you come in and make great changes, and I think that’s one of her first failures is because she came in and said, ‘I’m going to fix this place. I’m going to stop corruption.’ And she saw that opportunity to use that as a marker rather than say, wait a minute, we need to let this go through and see exactly what we have. But what she did is she took 16 careers, she took 16 levels of integrity of these officers, and she kind of threw them in the trash.
Rogers: One cop told me that when she came on board … she was unaware that vice cops use actual cash to conduct transactions and to look for bad guys.
Mata: Right I think she forgot or she didn’t know that in gambling houses, they don’t give you receipts.
So I worked undercover for awhile and what she didn’t understand, what a lot of folks don’t understand is when you work in narcotics, you know, if I take $500 out and I buy an eight ball of coke tonight.
Rogers: What’s an eight-ball, Zac doesn’t know what that is.
Mata: Yeah, I bet.
Zac Crain: Wow. Why is everyone…?
Rogers: He’s profiling you, dude.
Mata: Look, I buy an ounce of cocaine or heroin or meth or whatever, you know, it’s going to cost me a certain amount of money. And I’m going to actually have something in my hand that I’m going to put into the property room. Now it really has no value because it’s drugs. Unless I sell it, you know, to a dope fiend or drug dealer, it really has no value.
With vice, you’re gambling. You’re gambling, so you go through the process and there’s a chance you’re gonna lose all your money. So you’re going to come out of that with a big goose egg. But nobody’s going to give you a receipt. And so, you know, that’s where in vice you have to have faith in the people that are working for you. And if you don’t have faith in that detective, then you need to move them out.
On the relationship between Mayor Eric Johnson and the Dallas Police Association:
Mata: Eric has done an amazing job in my eyes because, for once, we finally have a mayor that is just not taking the BS. What does that mean? What I mean is the mayors in the past, the, uh, the department heads that chiefs, whether it was Chief Hall or Chief Brown or Chief Kunkle, they would come up to (the) public safety (committee), give all these stats, give all these great numbers, all these great police phrases and the City Council and the mayor would just nod their head and say, okay, well that sounds good. You just keep doing what you’re doing. When all they were doing was, it was all smoke and mirrors.
Rogers: Well, wait a minute, I’m told 2014 was when crime was as low as it’s ever been.
Mata: We’re under two different crime stats now we’re under NIBORS, (National Incident Based Offense Reporting System, a federal mandate.) So this is how it used to be so that you know the difference. So back in 2014, let’s say your car gets broken into and 14 other cars get broken into on that street. In 2014, that was not 14 offenses. One, that was one.
Now we’re under NIBORS. NIBORS counts every offense for every case number. So now instead of one offense, you have 14 offenses. So that has helped spiked crime.
Rogers: But violent crime doesn’t work like that.
Mata: Violent crime, you can’t fudge because it takes a body and a victim. And so that’s how you can tell we are having an, a, a very abnormal increase in violent crime because other cities who are also having to go into NIBORS, because that’s a national database now, they’re not having the same violent crime.
Rogers: Is that because of gangs and drugs? I mean, what I mean it’s, it’s gangs, drugs and Johnson asked for like, what’s the reason for this?
Mata: Well, and it, I think what it is, is everybody’s playing a little too nice. Everybody’s playing the PC politics because I’m gonna be honest with you, if I was Chief Hall and I was in this predicament, I would say, you know what? Yes, we need to do better as a department. Yes, I need to have better strategy. Yes, I need to increase my proactive units, which I have decreased. And that falls on me. But some of this falls on the county courthouse. Some of this falls on the fact that we have violent criminals, repeat violent criminals who are, who are committing two, three, four or five violent acts being arrested by DPD only to be set free on a low bond, a $1,500 or $3,000, which is 300 bucks. And they’re just out committing the crimes again.
Crain: The stats say 68, 70 percent say the people at the jail are awaiting trial because they can’t afford the bail.
Mata: That’s where the DA is confusing the message. So he’s talking about bail reform. I 100% agree with bail reform, that that nonviolent offender, that offender who’s committing a property crime, that’s not a career property criminal, you know, not that burglar, but somebody who goes out and shoplifts or somebody commits a, a small larceny, a theft. Absolutely, that that person should be given a fair and reasonable bail because all bail is supposed to be as a promise to appear. It should not be punitive, right? Unless he or she is a threat to the community, then the judges and the magistrate have a responsibility to protect the public by the use of a high bond or no bond.