My View II: Dallas Illustrates the Need to Police Bad Cops


The biggest challenge that police agencies across the country face is the need to identify those people who shouldn’t be police officers and protect the public and their colleagues from those individuals.  I think, of all of the challenges facing police forces, this is by far the most difficult because for years those individuals have been protected by laws, by police associations and by their colleagues.

Nothing illustrates this need more than the Dallas Police Department.  As police critic Radley Balko points out in a column on Friday, “one particularly unfortunate aspect of the murder of five Dallas police officers Thursday night is that the city’s police department is a national model for community policing.”

Writes Mr. Balko, “Chief David Brown, who took office in 2010, has implemented a host of policies to improve the department’s relationship with the people it serves, often sticking out his own neck and reputation in the process.”

One thing that Chief Brown did was, after a series of officer-involved shootings in 2013, he “overhauled the department’s lethal-force policies, including a requirement that officers undergo training every two months instead of every two years.”

These policies earned him “public criticism from police groups and police advocates” and he was criticized by the Dallas Morning News, which accused him of being “reactive” and “moving too quickly.”

According to Mr. Balko, these changes have worked, “After hitting a high in 2012, officer-involved shootings in the city dropped in each ensuing year.”

Chief Brown isn’t perfect. For instance, in 2013, he “introduced a policy that allows police officers to wait 72 hours before answering questions about a shooting.”

He has also “fired more than 70 Dallas cops since taking office. But he doesn’t just fire bad cops, he also announces the firings — and the reasons for them — on social media. It’s a bold sort of transparency for which, again, he’s been criticized by police groups.”

Chief Brown has also “implemented a policy of collecting and releasing data on all use-of-force incidents. Brown has also implemented a body camera policy that’s mostly consistent with the model policy recommended by the American Civil Liberties Union. He also regularly makes himself available to the media.”

In a 2014 op-ed shortly after Ferguson erupted,” Brown stressed the importance of transparency, disclosure and honesty in the hours after a police shooting.”

In another interview, he stressed the importance of staying connected to and in touch with the community, even when tensions are high: “I would much rather have a couple of hundred folks shouting at me in a church than on a protest line after a police shooting because ‘I never talked to them,’ or ‘I never listened to them,’ ‘I never had a meeting with them.’”

Under Chief Brown, Dallas “has also emphasized and publicized the fact that citizens have a First Amendment right to record police officers (although the agency’s actual written policy could definitely be improved).”

Mr. Balko focuses some of his piece on the fact that the tragedies will make it less likely for these policies to be implemented elsewhere.  Indeed, he writes, “I’ve already seen some criticism on social media suggesting that Brown’s permissive approach to policing protests may be partly to blame for what happened last night. Even given how little information we have right now, this is absurd.”

But there is a secondary point that needs to be made here.  The policies of Dallas police are not what led this troubled young man to go on a shooting rampage.  I’m willing to bet that this young man had no idea what the Dallas Police policies were on things like use of force or transparency.

Mr. Balko argues, “It’s true that guns make such attacks easier. But guns also aren’t necessary, as we saw with the Boston Marathon bombing. Attacks like this one won’t be prevented with more aggressive policing, less police transparency, more tolerance of police brutality or more permissive use-of-force policies. To truly eliminate the risk of such attacks would require massive shifts of power and authority that would fundamentally alter our concept of what makes a free society free.”

Or, to make the point more broadly, what the shooter in this case was reacting to is a national problem of policing.  It seems like he had been planning this for some time and the recent shootings gave him a moment of opportunity and an excuse to carry out the plan.

But I think a more important point is this: the bad policing tactics that we saw certainly in Minnesota and probably Baton Rouge as well, coupled with what has happened in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Baltimore, New York, Ferguson, South Carolina, Chicago, San Francisco, Oakland and many other places creates the backdrop for this tragedy.

The bottom line is that police may be in more danger in Dallas because of the bad actors in other communities and cities across the country.  Good police officers are endangered by the actions of bad police officers.

If we want to change that, we need to crack down on the bad apples so that the majority of good officers do not have to carry their burden.  That is a tall task, but that is the lesson I glean out of Dallas.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. PhillipColeman

    Getting rid of bad cops already on the payroll is one approach. Unfortunately, their replacements are just as likely or more to be like their predecessors. A far better solution is found in backing up a step. Develop measures to prevent these persons from ever putting on a uniform in the first place.

    When unsuitable law enforcement officers are already in the ranks many legal and other constraints impede the ability to get rid of them. We’ve beaten that one to death and seeking reform measures here goes against the grain of basic due process rights, heralded labor protections sanctified by law, and public sentiment sympathetic to the toils of our protectors being in the line of fire. Focusing here is a solution that very problematic and assured to be years in the making. We don’t have years to solve this dilemma.

    So back to the gate that opens up for persons who want to enter law enforcement. Motivations are many, and many are noble and confirm to the highest standards of the police profession. Those are the ones we want. Unfortunately, the numbers are very low, compared to the demand, and it’s worse now. What young person is currently saying I’d sure like to be a municipal police officer, it looks so appealing.

    We can recruit suitable candidates, including those of a particular gender or ethnicity. Law enforcement can compete the other elements of the public sector AND the private sector–once we have more tangible benefits to match. The mystic and allure–and the ability help folks in real need–  is real and extremely fulfilling. It’s the one card law enforcement can play held by no other employer. But all that is compromised severely with these high-profile shameful displays of police performance on the part of a few.

    If were going to throw many millions of federal and state dollars around in response to this festering problem (and I’m certain we will, this is an election year), federal laws have to be enacted to “raise all boats” found at every level of local and county law enforcement. It pains me to say this because I’m fundamentally opposed to federal dictates on local control of any sort. But the disparity in the quality of law enforcement scattered throughout our nation is shocking. Thanks to our current society where everything is visually recorded, police actions are repeatedly shown that are totally at odds with every proper police protocol and procedure I’ve known dating back the very origins of American policing. Many will not believe this, but this was not the standard of municipal policing decades ago. How local policing became what it is now is totally bewildering and this sentiment is widely shared among veteran law enforcement officers who have an historical perspective to call on.

    Back to money, and back to the entry gate. It’s going to cost us, but nothing like the economic and (more importantly) social cost we suffer right now. We must fund measures applicable to all police agencies, selection standards are raised, not lowered as been the past practice. We compensate police proportionate to the demands we place on them, which means huge pay raises in many regions of this country. One truism applies here, you get what you pay for. And boy are we paying, but not for the right reasons or desires.

    Incumbent officers not meeting these new standards would NOT be grandfathered with the same benefit. Instead, those officers must show through documented performance they meet the new standard, including elective education and individual training classes on relevant subjects. Otherwise, they stay where they are, and stand aside as more deserving and qualified move up the professional ladder.

    Far-reaching, sure is. Almost radical in scope, yep. But look around; can we reluctantly agree that drastic circumstances call for drastic measures? Dallas has been the scene of a national watershed event twice now. Local law enforcement is going to have to change, the challenge is to make it benefit all stakeholders including the police themselves.




    1. Paul Thober

      Sounds good, Mr. Coleman, as far as it goes. Removing bad apples and preventing more bad apples from taking their place I see as only a partial solution. There is also the pervasive police culture where no officer dare speak ill of another’s actions: I give you the murder of Laquan McDonald by police officer Jason Van Dyke in Chicago. This was witnessed by several fellow officers none of whom thought it was appropriate to disarm and arrest him. Neither did any of them step forward to incriminate Officer Van Dyke.  There followed the deletion of possible evidence that had been recorded by a nearby business, again by fellow officers and then the stonewalling by police officials who refused to release the dashcam video for a year. Appears to me there was a whole barrel of bad apples involved, to torture the metaphor. Somehow this pervasive impunity granted by police officers to fellow police officers needs to end. I don’t have an answer, do you?

      1. PhillipColeman

        Yeah, Paul, I do have an answer and it’s not original with me. Indeed, the Code of Silence Rule was pervasive and all-controlling in police cultures in times past. The Code was effectively enforced through isolation, ridicule, and scorn, sometimes driving the truth-teller out of the profession. It was omnipresent and it certainly allowed rogue cops to operate with relative impunity–and silence from the rest implied approval even though it was privately condemned by almost everybody else.

        But please note, “was.” The Code of Silence does not have anywhere near the control in contemporary policing that it once did. Two major reasons: Official controls were implemented by progress and professional law enforcement administrators going far back, an it worked with great effectiveness. Strangely enough, all the innumerable studies of the Code of Silence, then and now, not a single one reported reform measures in response to the Code.

        Here’s the very simple formula for any law enforcement administrator. You write a rule titled, “Honesty,” and you follow that title with wording to the effect, any officer who speaks untruthfully in the scope of an internal investigation will be charged with dishonesty. The penalty of first choice is termination.

        Then there is the enforcement tool for the Code of Silence. Retaliation from within the ranks and which can be confirmed by another internal investigation, can be addressed with a companion rule. Borrowing from Whistle Blower and Sexual Harassment statutes, retaliation for being honest will bring grief to anyone who invoke the unlawful sanction against a fellow employee.

        And while in times past (note again, past tense), lying in an official investigation or report could be done with “relative impunity,” not any more. It has quickly reached the point where most every law enforcement action in a public setting is visually recorded, from multiple sources. If you lie, you die, your termination soon follows. The Code has far less attraction when it comes right down to–Is it going to be him/her that takes the fall, or is it going to be me? Self-preservation almost invariably trumps the Code of Silence.



        1. Paul Thober

          Laquan McDonald was murdered in 2014. Fellow officers not only did not act, but destroyed possible evidence, and superiors went to extraordinary ends to hide what happened.

          To make it a little more personal this officer

          killed a 65-year-old cyclist, lied about it, still has his job and no prosecution.

          The only reason I see for some improvement is the occasional capture on video of some of this behavior.

          This is contemporary behavior, not what most people would characterize as “in the past”.

    2. tj

      It’s been noted elsewhere that more and more cops were in the military, which helped them secure employment as police officers, but training and experience as a military combatant is not helpful – it’s a dangerous handicap – for working in community law enforcement.

  2. Tia Will

    To truly eliminate the risk of such attacks would require massive shifts of power and authority that would fundamentally alter our concept of what makes a free society free.”

    For me, this is a key point. We cannot have a free society if we do not have a basic level of trust both in our fellow civilian citizens that we will not be attacked or harmed and in our police,  that we will be protected, not detained or attacked or killed if we have not broken a law. When we act in fear driven ways ( such as carrying concealed weapons) or leaving our weapons in an easily accessible spot in our home, we invite tragedy based not on the reality of our being attacked, but on our fear of the same.

    1. South of Davis

      Tia wrote:

      > we invite tragedy based not on the reality of our being attacked,

      > but on our fear of the same.

      This may come as a surprise to you but everyone does not live in Davis and the “reality” of being attacked in their home is very “real”.

      P.S. Detroit and Oakland had a lot more murders than Davis did last year.

  3. Rich RifkinWDE 73

    DG: “Dallas Illustrates the Need to Police Bad Cops … I’m willing to bet that this young man had no idea what the Dallas Police policies were on things like use of force or transparency. … What the shooter in this case was reacting to is a national problem of policing.”

    I am confused how ‘Dallas illustrates the need to police bad cops’ if you also argue that reforms within the Dallas Police Department have been on target. Maybe your headline would make more sense if it read, Tragedy in Dallas Illustrates the National Need to Police Bad Cops.

    FWIW, the killer, Micah Johnson, lived in Mesquite, Texas, a middle-class suburb of Dallas. It’s likely he had never had any run-ins with the police in Dallas … or anywhere else. I don’t know if he ever lived in Dallas.

    My suspicion is, given his age, is that he had some form of mental illness and it likely was getting worse over the last two years and he likely had no treatment for it. It’s possible that he was not mentally ill but rather had some form of personality disorder — like paranoid personality disorder. I would guess those who knew him intimately can help answer that. What I am sure of is that normal people who are not part of some cult or larger political movement don’t do what Mr. Johnson did in Dallas, just because they are angry at the cops. (Likewise, the murderer in Orlando, Mr. Mateen, likely was mentally ill, in addition to some other serious issues he had related to his concealed homosexuality and the anti-gay beliefs in his religion.)

    1. The Pugilist

      Because Micah was lashing out at the entire police culture and not discriminating by which department did it right and which has done it wrong

  4. tj

    Yes, it does seem obvious this young man was mentally ill and did not get the help he needed.

    Besides needing good cops to protect us from bad cops, we need far better mental health care.

    1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

      we need far better mental health care

      I think a fatal flaw in our approach to mental health care is the unwillingness to force people who are going downhill into treatment. We usually just wait until it is too late, until a tragedy strikes or the person is sent to jail.

      For argument’s sake, say Mr. Johnson’s mother knew he was having paranoid thoughts and this was getting worse. She could have called the police, and unless he was an immediate danger, I would doubt the police or mental health professionals could have or would have done anything meaningful for the family. Even in California, where most counties now have Laura’s Law — which allows a judge to order psychiatric evaluations and based on those decide the best course of treatment — the person with mental problems needs to be very far along before any treatment is required/forced.

      My wish is that we would give the benefit of the doubt to the loved ones, like Mr. Johnson’s mother, with whom he lived. If she believed he was “going crazy” and she reported that — I have no idea if either of those were the case — he would immediately be taken into a psychiatric hospital and evaluated by psychiatrists and psychologists. And they would have to diagnose his disease (if any*) and recommend a course of treatment, short-term and long-term, possibly including spending some time in a locked mental hospital. Then the case should go before a judge and the judge would decide what course would be in the best interests of the patient, given the professional recommendations of the psychiatrist and psychologist. That approach, I think, would prevent far more tragedies by addressing the issues/maladies earlier on.

      If we did follow my prescription, we would then have to spend more on better mental health care. We would need more beds in psych hospitals. We would need more mental health clinics and more psychologists and psychiatrists and so on. But this kind of an investment would be very worthwhile to our society insofar as it prevented so many problems which arise from untreated or treated too late mental health problems.**

      *In cases where the mental health pros believe the family member’s report was baseless and the person was not really sick, some kind of alternative living arrangement would be in order.

      ** I should add that I had an in-law who developed paranoid schizophrenia in his 30s. And I witnessed his long and terrible decline, which included him buying dozens of guns in order to protect himself from the CIA agents hiding in his attic and so on. He also had some other police issues. But he never got any real treatment, long-term. I think today he is homeless.

      1. Frankly

        I think part of the reason we will not see this Rich is that it would change the “guns kill people” that the gun-ban zealots rely on, and to the more factual “criminals, terrorists and people with severe mental problems kill people”.

        Speaking to reporters earlier in Warsaw, Poland, where he is attending a NATO meeting, Obama on Friday called the Dallas shooting a “wrenching reminder of the sacrifices” law enforcement makes for the American people, but also remarked “that when people are armed with powerful weapons, unfortunately it makes it more deadly and more tragic, and in the days ahead we are going to have to consider those realities as well.”

        See… cannot let a good crisis go to waste without advancing the gun-ban political agenda.

  5. hpierce

    The VG graphic for this piece “says it all”… implied, is that it was a scene from Dallas, during the march and the ambush… about as far from the truth of the events as you can get… up until the active shooter ‘got into it’, and perhaps later, there are no video, private nor media that show officers in ‘phalanx’, or wearing “riot gear”… ‘inflammatory’ would be a very mild description of the graphic…

    Perhaps the byline, “—David M. Greenwald reporting“, would be more accurate if “reporting” was changed to “inflaming”, “agitating”, “opining”, etc.

  6. sisterhood

    Here in my new hometown the police force have a nice event called “coffee with a cop”.

    They sit in a local popular coffee shop, with a sign that says “we have no agenda”  or something to that effect.

    They announce the event ahead of time, in the local news. They stay at the coffee shop approximately 2 hours.

    I attended one of these events, skeptically.

    I was pleasantly surprised.

    We wound up inviting a female officer to sit at our table with us. She seemed genuinely wonderful.

    We wound up speaking briefly with the chief of police, too.

    Perhaps we need more of this type of event across these United States of America.

  7. sisterhood

    Hi Matt & David

    I’d like to delete this user ID to start using my real first name as my user ID. How do I go about this for you to process my first name as my commenter name/ user ID? Thanks.

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