DALLAS — When Micah Johnson opened fire on Dallas police in an act of vengeance against white officers, he was attacking a department whose chief has been lauded across the country for taking bold steps to root out bad cops and repair relations with minorities.
Police Chief David Brown, a black man who pushed through the reforms despite resistance from the rank-and-file, boasted at a news conference Monday that crime, police shootings and excessive-force complaints against the department have all dropped dramatically on his watch.
"This is the best department in the country, and I'm proud to be associated with the men and women of the Dallas Police Department," he said.
Johnson, a black Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, killed five officers in a sniper attack Thursday that he portrayed as payback for the fatal police shootings of black men last week in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and near St. Paul, Minnesota. The attack ended with Johnson blown up by a bomb delivered by a police robot.
No evidence has come to light to suggest that the 25-year-old Johnson had a grudge specifically against the 3,400-officer Dallas Police Department.
"Dallas PD is paying the price for problems elsewhere around our country," said Mohamed Elibiary, a former Texas-based Department of Homeland Security adviser.
Carlyle Holder, president of the National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice, had been holding up the Dallas Police Department as an example of a law enforcement agency effectively addressing the problem of racial disparities in police work.
"That's what made the killing of those officers so much harder to take," he said.
Brown became chief in 2010, taking over a department that a generation ago had one of the highest rates of civilian shootings in the country. In 2012, his efforts to heal the rift between police and the black community took on greater urgency when the killing of a black man by a white officer triggered widespread protests.
The chief responded by creating a public database to track shootings by police, requiring officers to undergo lethal-force training every two months instead of every two years, and firing 70 officers involved in questionable incidents, including some who faced charges of excessive use of force.
The biggest backlash has come in the last six months, when Brown started a community policing program in mostly Hispanic and black
"We need more boots on the ground, absolutely," said Mike Mata,
The dispute further strained a department that Brown said is one of the lowest-paid in the region, with new recruits making $43,000 a year, and has had such trouble recruiting officers that academy classes are frequently
While attending the University of Texas at Austin on a full scholarship, Brown became motivated to enter law enforcement when he returned to Dallas in the early 1980s and found friends from the
"I've been black a long time," Brown told reporters Monday. "We're in a much better place than when I was young man here, but we have more work to do, particularly in my profession."
In the south Oak Cliff
"We knew we couldn't arrest our way out of the situation," said Maj. Thomas Castro. Since the community policing strategy was instituted in January, violent crime in the
But it has been a gradual process of getting residents accustomed to community policing. Three young men appeared startled Sunday when an officer pulled up in his police car.
"I'm more afraid of the police after the shooting because people are going to feel like everybody's out for them," said Anthony Williams, a 23-year-old demolition worker who described being routinely sworn at, frisked and asked for identification simply for sitting outside. "We feel like the biggest gang is the police out here because they face no repercussions."
Likewise, South Dallas community activist George Battle said there is a "disconnect" between the city's leaders and communities like his.
"While it's well-meaning, it doesn't trickle down into the
To be sure, police relations are far better than they were 30 years ago, when The Associated Press identified Dallas as the No. 1 city for police shootings. In 1986, Dallas police officers killed or wounded 29 civilians in shootings. It was one of the highest per capita rates among big cities nationally and prompted a congressional hearing on the use of deadly force by police officers.
In 2014, Dallas police shot 15 people, 10 of them fatally.
On Monday, Brown boasted that the city's crime rate is at a 50-year low and that last year's murder rate was the fourth-lowest since the department began keeping records in 1930. Shootings by police were down 45
He said the department averaged over 150 to 200 excessive-force complaints every year for 33 years, but had only 14 last year.
The Dallas force is about 50
On Sunday at Friendship-West, a Baptist megachurch in south Oak Cliff, a state lawmaker asked the mostly black audience of several hundred people how they felt about Brown's performance. They responded with a standing ovation.
But pastor Freddy Haynes said he refused to allow the past week's tragedies to end in a "kumbaya moment."
"We can't kiss, hug and make up until there is a rectifying of the structures of hate," he said from the pulpit to roaring applause.
Emily Schmall, The Associated Press
©2016 The Canadian Press