Wednesday, June 7, 2023 Jun 7, 2023
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This Is the New Chief of Police

Reneé Hall is the first woman to run the department. She’s not so sure Dallas is ready for that.
By Jamie Thompson |
Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall was one of the best shots in her academy class.
Elizabeth Lavin
On paper she wasn’t a front-runner, but last summer U. Reneé Hall came to Dallas and charmed the city manager and council members by being approachable and funny and smart and, yes, though we’re not supposed to mention it, attractive, too. A fit 140 pounds at 47 years old, she can hold three-minute planks and outshoot many beat cops on the firing range. She collects handguns and vintage gowns and Louis Vuitton bags. She loves being a cop, and she loves being a woman. It’s the feminine stuff, she thinks, that has dogged her as Dallas’ first female police chief. That and the color of her skin. But more on that later.

Start with the “pedicure shoes incident.” Here’s how Hall tells the story: it was a Saturday in November. She’d been working 17-hour days. She’d gone to a roll call that morning at 8, and now she was off-duty. She wanted to get a manicure and pedicure and relax. She’d just dipped her feet into a tub of water when a member of her security detail ran into the salon and told her a SWAT officer had shot himself in the leg during a raid. Hall took her feet out of the water, and the nail technician gave her plastic slippers. She climbed into the back of an unmarked black SUV and raced to Parkland Hospital.

In the officer’s room, Hall hugged family members around the bed. “Chief, I’m so sorry,” the injured officer told her, embarrassed about his misfire.

“Hey, you’ve got nothing to apologize for,” she told him. “Those rumors about me making SWAT a part-time team? That’s out the window. You guys clearly need training.” Everyone laughed. Then Hall got serious. “Are you good?” she asked the officer.

“Yeah, Chief, I’m good.”

Someone noticed the slippers Hall was still wearing and said, “Don’t step on the chief’s toes. They’re not finished yet.” More laughter.

Hall didn’t think anything of it. She went back to the salon and finished her pedicure. But days later, she heard that stories were circulating around the department: Chief showed up at the hospital in pedicure slippers!

“It was like I’d flown down on a unicorn or something,” Hall told me recently. To her mind, the conversation should have been about how great it was that the chief had stopped what she was doing on a Saturday and had gone straight to the hospital. Don’t male cops get haircuts on their days off? Trim their beards? “They’ve never seen a woman in this role. It’s always been a man. So they’re not processing the pedicure shoes. That’s what women do. We get pedicures. I’m a girl. There’s hair, makeup, nails and toes.”

Hall has talked about the pedicure incident at substations across the city, where she attends roll calls to meet the officers under her command. Not long ago, a cop at Southwest asked what Hall was doing to improve morale across the struggling department.

“It’s never enough,” she told him. “When I got here, you guys wanted beards. I gave you beards. You wanted outer vest carriers. I got those. You talked about never seeing the police chief in the past. I showed up at the hospital when someone was injured, and it wasn’t enough because I had on pedicure shoes.” The cops laughed. “Whatever I do, it’s never enough,” she told them. “At some point, you’ve got to stop looking at me to improve morale. And you’ve got to start looking at yourselves.”

As the department’s 3,045 officers try to make sense of their new chief, so, too, is she trying to understand them—and her new city. Of the country’s 50 largest police departments, only a handful are run by women. Helping to blaze that path is hard enough. Doing it in Dallas, as a black person, adds another level of difficulty. At one point in the early ’20s, the Ku Klux Klan claimed Dallas as its most active chapter nationwide, with one out of every three eligible men belonging to the group. In some ways, though, the city skipped the civil rights movement, with everyone but County Commissioner John Wiley Price agreeing that riots would be bad for business. Ours is a complicated history of racism. Into it walked Hall.

Portrait of Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall
Put a lid on it: Hall drew criticism for taking too long, some said, to pass the test that’s a prerequisite to wearing a DPD uniform.

The new chief, for example, was surprised to learn that she would be dealing with not one but multiple police officer associations in Dallas: one black, one Hispanic, one mostly white. The power balance among them is unusual for a large American city. She refuses to meet with them separately, a departure from the protocol of previous chiefs. “Why are we so divided?” she keeps asking. Dallas doesn’t feel like her hometown of Detroit, which is roughly 80 percent black (Dallas is about 25 percent).

“Coming to Dallas and having people here who historically dislike black people for no reason at all—other than the fact that they’re black—is different for me,” she says.“It seems acceptable here.” Whenever she brings it up, she says, people tell her, “You’re black, and you’re in Dallas, and you might as well get used to it.” It’s worth noting that, going back to 1999, three of the last four police chiefs, including one interim chief, were black.

Hall was hired last year in July. In just six months on the job, she made several decisions that created controversies. She wondered if at least part of the criticism was fueled by her gender and race. First, she reorganized the department, demoting several beloved, longtime chiefs. Then she disbanded the vice unit, after saying she’d found concerning irregularities. But the biggest fuss came after she spent a couple of months on the job not in uniform. She had about a year to pass the laborious state exam to become certified as a cop in Texas, but she struggled to find time to study. She says she’d get home late and fall asleep with a highlighter pen, leaving marks on her comforter.

“I was trying to do it without stepping away from my daily duties,” she says. But then the rumors started: She was going to resign. She’d failed the test. “I got exhausted listening to the criticism. The media would not move on until I finished that test.”

She feels the flap over her uniform and the test was sexist. She’s taken note of how few black reporters there are in town. Previous male chiefs also took months to become certified as Texas peace officers, she says, but did not receive the same criticism. “Where were the stories about how long it took them to pass the test?” Hall asks. But people focused on what the female police chief was wearing and the fact that it wasn’t a uniform.

Hall eventually took two and a half weeks off to study, then passed the test on her first try in February. She says her mother, still in Detroit, has been so upset by the media coverage of her daughter in Dallas that she hasn’t yet come to visit.

Last summer, when Hall’s résumé landed on the desk of T.C. Broadnax, he studied it with interest. He’s black, and he’d only recently landed his own job in Dallas, as city manager. Hiring a new police chief was, he believed, one of the most important decisions he’d make during his first months on the job. The Dallas Police Department was in turmoil. Its pension had lost hundreds of millions on risky real estate bets and overly generous benefits, threatening officers’ retirements and pushing the city into financial peril. And the department was still reeling from the July 7, 2016, attack downtown, in which a black gunman targeted white officers, murdering five cops.

Broadnax whittled down the field to eight candidates, including Hall, a deputy chief in Detroit. When she came to Dallas for interviews, Broadnax, who describes himself as prickly, found himself instantly engaged. At a reception at City Hall, Broadnax saw Hall working the crowd, a line of people waiting to shake her hand. He saw her talking to young officers, posing for selfies. He looked at the other candidates; nobody else was doing that. “She had a presence and a level of engagement that stood out,” Broadnax says. “She was just here for a couple days and already connecting with people.”

During formal interviews with city staff, Hall talked about the challenges she’d faced in Detroit and her passion for community policing. As she walked out of the room, Broadnax told his staff, “I feel sorry for whoever is coming next.” Community panels interviewed the candidates, and, although instructed not to rank them, most came back with the same top choice: Hall. Broadnax planned to think it through for a few days, but quickly knew he wanted Hall. He stepped out of a police athletic league boxing match on a Saturday and called her. They’d keep it quiet for a few days, but she would be the city’s next police chief.

“Get ready,” he told her. “This is going to be a big deal for Dallas.”

For Hall, taking the job in Dallas meant leaving Detroit, where she was born and raised. She grew up in a small white house on the east side, in what had been a working-class neighborhood. She was the third child of Bonnie Hall, an auto assembly line worker, and Ulysses Brown, a young police officer who was killed when Hall was an infant.

Hall’s mother and grandmother raised the three children in shifts, around her mother’s schedule at a General Motors plant. The family spent hours on weekends at the house scrubbing baseboards, washing walls, ironing drapes. Whenever they got into trouble, Bonnie would ask her kids, “What did you do?” No matter what had happened, she figured they’d played a part.

Sometimes the family would pile into their Oldsmobile for a drive. Hall would look out the window as they coasted along Mack Avenue, a desolate landscape of dirty streets and broken buildings and tired-looking women in stockings and short skirts. Bonnie would explain why the women were there. They probably hadn’t finished school, probably had kids too early. In Bonnie Hall’s narrative, a hard life on the corner hadn’t just happened to them; they’d made choices that had led them there.

Bonnie would keep driving east, toward Lake Shore, a ribbon of road that opened up into the blue waters of Lake St. Clair. Mansions owned the view, with their dreamy lawns and water fountains. It was just a couple blocks, but they had slipped into a different universe.

“Your life can look like Mack Avenue, or it can look like Lake Shore,” Bonnie would tell her children. “It’s up to you. Which life will you choose?”

Hall chose early: senior class president, homecoming queen, cheerleader, cross-country runner, voted most popular and most likely to succeed. After graduating high school, Hall enrolled in Grambling State, a historically black university in Louisiana, joined the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, and graduated in 1994 with a criminal justice degree. She returned to Detroit and worked for a law firm, planning to become an attorney. But while completing her master’s degree, one of her instructors—the city’s police chief—encouraged her to join his department.

She’d never held a gun before. On the range, she followed instructions: align sight, control trigger, squeeze. Her first rounds created a near perfect grouping on the paper target’s chest. She did it again and again, eventually becoming one of the best shots in her academy class. To her mind, it was fate, a sign she was meant to be a cop.

Hall quickly climbed the ranks, promoted from sergeant to deputy chief in eight years, a progression that took many cops a lifetime. She moved into a townhouse near Lake St. Clair, not far from the route her mother had driven in that Oldsmobile. After all those Saturdays cleaning when she was a kid, Hall hired a housekeeper as soon as she could afford it. “You pay people to clean your house?” her mother asked. “That is trifling and lazy!”

In recent years, Hall began to eye the top job in Detroit. But her boss, Chief James Craig, was popular and not likely to leave. He encouraged Hall to apply elsewhere. After word spread about Hall’s hiring in Dallas, representatives from the Dallas Police Association, the largely white group, flew to Detroit to get the real story from officers. The DPA made it clear that its first choice was a well-liked department veteran, Malik Aziz or Gary Tittle, because they thought an insider had the best shot at turning the DPD around. But the DPA reps had liked Hall during interviews; she’d been their second choice.

DPA president Mike Mata says that Detroit officers told him, “She respects us. She cares about us as people, not just as officers.” Even at her high rank, overseeing some of the most violent precincts in Detroit, she regularly answered calls herself. “That is unheard of in Dallas,” Mata says.

I first met Hall in September, on her 18th day on the job. She sat behind a large wooden desk in her office on the sixth floor of Dallas police headquarters. She wore a mustard-colored silk shirt under a dark pantsuit. The black heels she wore to public appearances lay nearby, but on her feet were Birkenstocks. That afternoon, Hall was irritated. She was looking over a report on officer overtime prepared by then assistant chief Brigitte Gassaway, whom Hall had inherited. Hall didn’t understand the numbers on the report, and she was beginning to wonder whether Gassaway did.

“Is it 41 percent or 141 percent?” Hall asked. Gassaway muttered a response. Hall’s patience slipped. “Did you do the math?” Hall said. “Let’s do the math.” Hall’s mood gave way and she said to me, “Gimme one second.” I excused myself, and the office door swung shut, but I could hear Hall’s voice. She shouted, “You are my chief of staff! My chief. Of. Staff! You got two stars on your collar. I expect you to act like a chief. Be a chief!”

Not long after that math lesson, Gassaway retired. Hall felt one of the biggest parts of her job, before she could take the test that would get her into uniform, was figuring out whom she could rely on. “I don’t know what direction the knives are coming from,” she said.

A few days later, on a Monday, I caught up with Hall just after 7 a.m., as she walked into a conference room for her weekly command staff meeting. About two dozen assistant and deputy chiefs sat around a long table, listening to an update on an armed home invasion that had happened overnight. The details were sketchy. A harried-looking supervisor tried to explain why it had taken her officers 23 minutes to show up at the house, where the 82-year-old residents had been robbed at gunpoint. Neighbors and the area’s council member were upset. The supervisor explained that she’d had 16 officers on duty but they’d been overwhelmed. At one point she’d had 22 calls holding, several of them urgent “priority one” situations.

Detectives got word that the couple’s belongings, including their car, had been found at a pawnshop off Forest Lane. Crime scene technicians had processed the car for fingerprints, but it didn’t appear officers had seized a copy of the surveillance video from the pawnshop. They should have gotten it and pushed it out to the public to help identify and arrest the suspect, some deputy chiefs thought. After a couple of minutes of excuses from supervisors, Hall interrupted.

“I hear ‘should have, should have, should have,’ but what are we doing moving forward to ensure that ‘should have’ actually gets done?”

One deputy chief was quiet, then said, “I should have, um, well. I should have—and, Chief, like I said, there’s no excuse.”

Sitting at the head of the table, her hand resting on her chin, Hall looked at him for a moment. “What checks and balances are we putting into place?” she asked.


“That’s what you need to focus on,” she said. “What are we going to do to make sure that’s done. OK?” It’s something to which her command staff is becoming accustomed: a burning rebuke, followed by a more collaborative salve of “OK?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said the deputy chief.

That same afternoon, Hall stepped back into the conference room for a meeting with all her majors. “Hello,” she said in a singsong voice, walking toward the head of the table, before changing her mind. “I want to sit in the middle,” she said, squeezing between two majors, who laughed nervously.

After a few minutes of introductions, Hall got to the point: “What I’m seeing too often in this organization is everybody is waiting for somebody else to tell them what they can do, and nothing is getting done. And that’s unacceptable at this rank.”

Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall's late father Ulysses Brown.
Mysterious murder: Hall’s father, Ulysses Brown, was a Detroit cop. When Hall was 6 months old, Brown, 28, was found shot to death behind a gas station. His killer was never caught.

Hall told the majors she was empowering them to lead, to make decisions, to take charge. But to succeed, she said, they needed to get closer to their troops. She’d heard from officers that they rarely saw majors and chiefs around their precincts, and that was unacceptable. “You had better know the police officers up under your command,” Hall said. “We are making decisions that affect them each and every day, and how can we do that if we don’t even know who we’re making decisions for?” If patrol officers are out on an important call at 4 a.m., their supervisors better be, too. Hall said, “You better get up out of the bed. Because if I get there and you’re not, guess who I don’t need?”

A female major with shoulder-length dark hair spoke up: “Can I just say something on that?”

Hall nodded.

Majors already work long hours, she said. Meetings all day, home at night taking calls. Didn’t they need time to decompress, too?

“You know why you have no sympathy from me?” Hall said.

“I’m not asking for sympathy,” the major said.

“But do you know why that doesn’t resonate with me? Because probably my hours are much longer than yours. And I still find a way, after I come in at 6:30 in the morning, and my last meeting is sometimes 9 at night, I want to go home and get in bed. But I make my way to a station.”

After an hour, Hall told the majors she hoped they would get on board with her approach. “This is a new police department,” she said. “I’m not sure what we did before I got here, and I really don’t care. What I know going forward is that we are going to be a world-class police department. We are going to operate in excellence. We are going to treat our citizens with the utmost respect, and we are going to operate with the highest level of integrity. Period. There are no ifs, no ands, and no buts. This ship is headed toward excellence. I would love for each and every one of you to stay on. But if this is not for you, you’re welcome to get off.”

At the meeting’s end, Hall rose, and the majors stared in silence as the heavy wooden door swung shut behind her.

Hall makes no secret that she’s married to her job. No husband, no kids. She told me she has never longed for children and only recently has thought seriously about marriage. “I am not the average woman who feels like if you’re not married and don’t have kids then you’re not a whole woman,” Hall says. “That doesn’t wash with me. I believe God has everyone on a different journey. I love kids. My nieces and nephews think they’re my own. But I’ve never wanted children.”

She believes her feelings were influenced by her mother, who spoke openly about how she’d gotten locked into an assembly line worker’s life after having kids early. Living in a house with a single mother taught Hall that she didn’t need a man to survive.

“I have never done a lot of compromising in my space,” Hall said. “I have a good and forgiving heart, but the second a man hurts my feelings, he doesn’t get another chance.”

Her mother would tell her: “You can’t leave a man every time he does something you don’t like.” But Hall said she struggles with that. In her experience, men want women who cook and clean. She loves her housekeeper, and her cooking mostly is restricted to Sundays, when she hard-boils enough eggs to last her for breakfast all week.

“Men are needy,” Hall says. “They feel like, ‘I need you right here with me.’ And if you’re not right there, there’s that infidelity piece. And who is dealing with that?”

Until she finds a partner, she says she’s content working 17-hour days. In Detroit, she spent most of her scant free time in church. Deeply religious, Hall often listens to gospel music, singing along with Marvin Sapp and John P. Kee. “I want to share my life with somebody,” she says. “But I’m not willing to settle.”

From the beginning, Hall has waded into discussions about race. She arrived one Saturday morning for a talk about policing and minority communities at The Potter’s House, a predominately black megachurch in southwest Dallas. The other law enforcement officer onstage, then-Sheriff Lupe Valdez, was in uniform. Hall hadn’t yet passed her state exam and wore a vintage denim gown, its billowing skirt nearly touching the floor.

Bishop T.D. Jakes talked about the “seething pot” of mistrust in many minority communities, the perception that police officers pledge “fidelity to blue,” at times creating a “fraternity for dysfunction.” Chief Hall spoke up. Police departments need to take responsibility for their wrongs, she said. But minority communities also need to own up to their part. “Because if we’re going to have a real conversation here, let’s have a real conversation,” she said. “The largest amount of crime comes out of our minority communities. So when we encounter minorities, sometimes our officers have a level of fear.” That’s where training comes in, Hall said. Officers need to know how to handle that fear and focus on de-escalation tactics. But, she said, “We know that it’s our family members that are creating the crime and the havoc in these communities. And we need to stand up as individuals and say, ‘No more.’ ”

Bishop Jakes listened politely. At length, he said, “I don’t want it to be heard in such a way that with the color of my skin comes a propensity to be a criminal. What we have to understand about the communities that are having an exorbitant amount of crime, they’re not having an exorbitant amount of crime because they’re black or brown. But … because we have in this country created these cesspools of unemployment, no hope, no opportunities.”

Hall quickly climbed the ranks, promoted from sergeant to deputy chief in eight years, a progression that took many cops a lifetime.

The crowd cheered, many rising from their seats.

“When we get good jobs and good money and good neighborhoods, we live like any other people,” Jakes said.

The crowd roared.

A couple of days later, Jakes told me that he understood Hall’s point, but carried too far it sounds like victim blaming. How can you hold a grandmother accountable for not ratting out a drug dealer on her street? She has to live there; she’s scared.

Hall understands the point, but says too many people in minority communities cling to the misdeeds of the past, rather than focusing on what they can do today. “We have not been given our 40 acres and a mule,” Hall says. “We haven’t been given the schools, the resources. But what I will not let minorities off the hook about is that education is free. Sure, the minority school system doesn’t compare with the suburbs. But I went to a public school, and whether it was the best education or the worst education, I got it. It allowed me to go to college. It allowed me to go to the next level. And I sit here today as the police chief, able to effect change in the community. I put myself in a position to do better.”

She knows not everyone is lucky enough to have a mother like hers. “But it drives me crazy when I hear people say, ‘I’m not working at McDonald’s.’ Well, why not? I worked at Taco Bell. I scooped up disgusting ground beef to ungrateful people, and it made me realize I didn’t want that kind of life.

“White people can’t say this, but I’m black, so I can,” Hall says. “We have to take responsibility for ourselves. We control what we can control. We work with what we have.”

In those early weeks of Hall’s tenure, Mike Mata, the president of the Dallas Police Association, told me he was impressed by stories circulating about the new chief. On one of her first days, she rolled up at a car crash. When she stepped into the scene, one officer, who didn’t recognize her, was about to start yelling. Then another officer nudged him, saying, “That’s the new chief.” Hall asked if she could help. She shook hands with all the officers and introduced herself to the citizens involved in the wreck. She left, then returned 10 minutes later with cold drinks for everybody. “She could have just kept driving,” Mata says. “I mean, nobody would have known.”

I saw Hall endear herself to one group of officers in September. She was scheduled to appear at an 8 a.m. briefing downtown. She was 15 minutes late, then 30, and irritated officers began shaking their heads. Hall sailed through the door at 8:48, full of apologies. Despite using her GPS, she’d gotten lost, then stuck in traffic. If you’re ever late for a meeting with me, she told them, you get a pass. They laughed.

Hall said she wasn’t there to talk; she came to listen. What did officers need? She didn’t have any money for raises, she joked, but she was working on it.

Officers spoke up. They wanted their 10-hour shifts back, giving them three-day weekends to decompress. They wanted to know her position on facial hair.

“I’ll be honest with you,” she said. “I don’t like facial hair on police officers. But if a beard makes you happy, fine. I don’t want any Duck Dynasty going on, but as long as it’s clean-cut, I’m fine with it. You guys have big concerns: pension, pay. I don’t want to fight you on the little stuff. If I can give you a win, I will.”

She told officers she would seek their input before making major changes. “I am huge on you being a part of the decision-making process,” Hall said. “I don’t believe in sitting high and looking low. I can make a decision, but if I haven’t gotten any input, how effective am I?”

“Thanks,” one officer said.

“I only win if you win,” Hall said.

More nods. “Thank you,” another officer said.

They talked back and forth for an hour, and as Hall was about to leave, an officer in the back raised his hand. “I’ve been here 29 years, and this is the first time the chief has come down to speak to us,” said Frank “Timbo” Duncan. “I want to thank you.”

The honeymoon didn’t last into 2018. In March, when I called the DPA president, Mata, to ask how he thought Hall was doing, he replied at first with a long silence. “Hmm,” he said, “OK, let’s see. I don’t know if I want to step in this.”

Despite high hopes for Hall, Mata’s feelings aren’t as glowing now. Officers are still leaving the department for better-paying jobs elsewhere, he says. Recruiting goals aren’t being met. Transfers and promotions have been frozen inside the department, upsetting several hundred officers.

“I don’t want to bash Hall,” Mata says. “What I think is really going on is that the city isn’t giving her the tools she needs to succeed.” Cops are tired of reading about politicians wanting deck parks and golf courses instead of funding the police department, Mata says. He figures that under Hall about half of the cops think nothing has changed; the other half think things are getting worse.

When cops are unhappy, incidents like the “pedicure shoes” take on greater meaning, Mata says. He was at the hospital the day that Hall walked in wearing the slippers. He says he didn’t think anything of it. He was happy she’d rushed over as fast as she could. Although he thinks the criticism was petty, he understands why it spread quickly among the troops. “If you’re going to represent the police department and the rank and file, you have to look like them. You have to appear professional at all times. They want that,” he says. “I didn’t care about the slippers, but the chief has to make tough decisions that aren’t going to be popular. Why give ammo to anybody about small stuff?”

As for Hall’s contention that she’s being treated unfairly because she’s a black woman, Mata disagrees. “I think that’s completely unfounded,” he says. “If anything, a lot of individuals on this department, and in this community, thought it was about time that we had a female leading us.”

Mata says he will continue to support Hall, and he encourages the troops to root for her success. “They need her to succeed. I need her to succeed,” he says. “She’s our greatest chance of getting this department back on top. If she fails and we have to start this process all over again, there’s nothing positive about that.”

He says Hall will gain more credibility with the rank and file if she talks at every public safety meeting about the need to pay and treat officers better, and if she does more of what she did in Detroit: answering calls, getting to know her officers. “If she’d get out there and answer calls and make her command staff do it, too, that would go a long way with officers,” Mata says. “They want to feel like we’re all in this together.”

After spending time with Hall in the weeks after she was hired, I found her difficult to access. The PR effort ended. She had her test to study for and other pressing matters. We re-connected this spring and had lunch at one of her favorite restaurants, Spiral Diner, near Lake Cliff Park, serving “vegan comfort food since 2002.” Hall recently became vegan again and eats there a couple times a week. As we ate, Hall said she figured she had the support of about 70 to 75 percent of officers, who were open to her and wanted her to succeed. But she detected opposition in the other 30 percent or so. “Once in awhile, I’ll meet an officer who only halfway wants to shake my hand,” she said. “They’re never disrespectful, but I think it has more to do with individual perception and implicit bias.”

I detected in Hall a swing in attitude toward her adopted city, a disenchantment, especially toward the media. Their coverage has been unfair, she said. “I think it’s been very one-sided. And I honestly believe that it has to do with color and race, being black and female,” she said.

Hall believes her predecessor, David Brown, who is black, also was treated poorly by the media. So was former chief Terrell Bolton, also black. But she thought former chief David Kunkle, who is white, was treated well. “I don’t believe Kunkle got the kind of media coverage that I’m getting. Brown did. Bolton did. And we’re all black,” Hall said.

She was looking forward to her swearing-in ceremony this month. She thinks she has convinced her mother to come visit Dallas. Typically, police chiefs are sworn in right away, but Hall wanted to wait until she could appear in uniform. She has been thinking about what she’ll say from the podium. If the swearing-in had happened quickly, she knows her speech would have been filled with hope and optimism, all the unburdened beauty of new beginnings.

But now she’ll have been on the job for eight months. After a queen’s welcome, she has been questioned and criticized. She has seen the insides of the police department, and she, more than anybody, knows how much work remains. The department is still losing officers, still not meeting its recruiting goals. Hall has learned that no matter how many 17-hour days she works, it may not be enough.

There’s one story she likes to tell, though, that might find its way to the podium. Hall was sitting at her desk one afternoon, highlighting passages of her strategic plan, preparing to tell the City Council how she’ll reduce crime and increase community involvement and lure the best police officers to the department. Her right hand, Thomas Taylor, the only person she has brought from Detroit, walked over holding his phone. “Let me show you something,” he said.

Hall looked at the screen. She saw a picture of a young girl wearing a police uniform, standing in front of a poster board. Hall zoomed in on the photograph. The girl had filled the poster with facts about Dallas’ new police chief for a school Black History Month project. She’d researched Hall’s life, knew she’d gone to Grambling State, knew she’d joined the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. The girl, about 5 years old, had printed out a picture of Hall in uniform and had put on her own police uniform, too.

Hall lingered on the image. If she accomplished nothing else, that was something. That little girl thought she could be police chief one day, too.

Email writer Jamie Thompson at  [email protected]