The Dallas police chief has to be a little nervous if she wants to keep her job. Chief U. Reneé Hall hasn’t ever seemed to fully have the trust of this council or this mayor, going back to last year when murders and violent crime spiked. She came up with a violent crime plan to curb such actions by 5 percent. Mayor Eric Johnson wanted something more ambitious. Nevertheless, it hasn’t worked. Perhaps improving public safety requires more than just police response.
A year later, in late May, her department was clearly in disarray during the first weekend of protests. The council’s public safety committee questioned her last week. They didn’t hold back.
Two members—Omar Narvaez and Adam Medrano—outright said they had lost trust in the police chief. The rest of the committee, which would be a majority of the full Council, had serious questions about the police chief’s leadership. And then, on Friday, committee chair Adam McGough triggered a performance review of the city manager, the police chief’s boss.
All of this is parliamentary, but its underpinnings are clear. Chief Hall now has sights on her. The investigation report the police department performed assessing its failures during the first weekend of protests didn’t do enough for the council.
Here’s the thrust of it, which I detailed last week:
It found that communication among the cops was poor, and the command structure was unclear. Chief Hall’s whereabouts are a mystery in the report. “I was everywhere,” she said during the meeting. In being everywhere, it sounds like she was nowhere. Orders were not clearly passed down to those who would be carrying them out, leading some to take on responsibilities they were not prepared for. Department leaders “appeared unsure as to the best tactics during officer/protester encounters.”
“Over and over again, the evidence shows an unacceptable lack of strategy and planning,” said McGough. “It shows misplaced trust and a lack of clarity for our officers and for our protesters.”
Does Hall still have support of her department? She says she does. She’s also dealing with a violent year: murders are about on pace to meet last year’s count, which were the most in a decade. Aggravated assaults not between family members were up by 30 percent through July. The Council has made clear they believe it Hall’s duty to curb these things.
She has called for more support services to meet the needs of the communities where these crimes are occurring. People need hope. And jobs and mental health services and transportation and food. When those things don’t exist, violence can boil over. Police are, by their nature, reactive. Getting the City Council to accept that fact has been difficult for her. And now, the poor reaction to the protests has them questioning her competency leading the police department of the ninth largest city in America.
The Dallas Morning News editorial board chimed in on the topic, wishy-washing itself on its way to a conclusion that says very little. Look, instead, to columnist Sharon Grigsby, who writes that Hall “has fallen short in her two most important assignments of 2020,” which include the protest response and curbing the violent crime rise. The increased scrutiny—from the media, elected officials, and the public—signal what could be a difficult fall for the chief, who’s led the department since 2017. City Council members aren’t speaking on the record outside of meetings, but their messaging was clear. They’re losing trust in her ability to do the job.
The calls for Hall’s job haven’t been as loud as those in Austin, where Council came close to firing Chief Brian Manley in the wake of similar leadership failures in responding to protests. But now that the Council has opened that door, it will be curious to see whether her boss walks through it.
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