Saturday, January 28, 2023 Jan 28, 2023
56° F Dallas, TX
Publications

EDITOR’S NOTE MAIN STREET BLUES

By Ruth Miller Fitzgibbons |

It was a small thing, the kind of slight easily overlooked when weighed against the punishing schedule of the chief of police of the eighth-largest city in the U.S. The occasion was a special “Back The Blue” church service at the First United Pentecostal Church on West Illinois. The marquee out front proudly welcomed “special guests” Mayor Annette Strauss and Police Chief Mack Vines. Strauss was there, along with City Council members Al Lipscomb and Charles Tandy. Chief Vines, the chief executive officer and spiritual leader of the city’s 3,418-member police force, was not.

In better times, who would question the chiefs failure to show up for a troop pep rally on a Sunday? But these are not better times. And in fact, Vines’s absence was greeted with the same resigned, “What do you expect?” shrugs that have become endemic to a police force stricken by plunging morale. Says Monica Smith, head of the 2,200-mem-ber Dallas Police Association, “The problem with Mack Vines has always been his inaccessibility to the police officers. They don’t know him any better than they did a year and a half ago.”

Yes, it has been a year and a half since Vines took over the Dallas police force in the midst of tumultuous racial tension between the cops and minority leaders. In many ways that tension has been greatly relieved. One of Vines’s head cheerleaders remains County Commissioner John Wiley Price, who seems so thankful to be rid of former Police Chief Billy Prince that he even claims, of his recent hauling off to jail, that “it felt great to be arrested by brothers.” The steps Vines has taken to promote blacks, women, and to a lesser degree Hispanics have played to a very appreciative audience, at least in some quarters.

But certainly not all. Vines irked some minority leaders so much over his opposition to a Dallas/Citizens Police Review Board that State Representative Fred Blair has called for his resignation. Vines’s worst problems, though, are bubbling from within, as discontent with his administration grows increasingly ugly and more public. DPA’s Smith says that she has to beat back attempts to put Vines to a vote of no confidence almost every week.

As a self-described “administrator as opposed to a cop,” a man who calls himself a “change agent” and a “tension coordinator” rather than a motivator and a leader. Vines seems to have deliberately set himself up to be universally disregarded, if not disliked, by his troops. As he puts out fires in minority circles, others are smoldering closer to police headquarters on Main Street. A powerful example is found in “Betrayed,” page 62, the story of two undercover police officers who were sold out by their superiors, their lives endangered, their careers doomed. It is a tortuously complex tale, but one that deserves to be told. It is, I fear, the ultimate parable of a police force that grows more hardened to the indifference of its upper ranks with the passing of each new patrol.

These police officers, and many others we talked to, are embittered by Chief Vines’s aloofness, by what they see as his vindictive retribution against those who speak out or disagree, and by what is viewed as his “brown-nosing” among community leaders at the cost of standing by the troops.

How much of the discontent is spread by a few rotten apples who have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to a fairer and more equitable police force? For most of Vines’s tenure. I had believed that a few unenlightened rednecks were engaged in a nasty and self-preserving smear campaign.

But I have come to fear that the problems are far more widespread than that. And most City Council members and community leaders seem to have their heads in the sand, preferring to believe that doing the right thing by minorities must inevitably come at the expense of police morale. In my mind, it comes down to this: is being a progressive policy maker mutually exclusive with being an inspirational leader of the men and women who risk their lives to protect us? I don’t think so.