DALLAS - Far away from the City Hall, Jeanette Berry worries who will become Dallas' top cop.
“It's very important,” says Berry, who works closely with Dallas police officers assigned to a Red Bird Outreach Center at Southwest Center Mall. “Dallas needs a chief who can emphasize and sympathize with the community.”
Berry attended an event where she had an opportunity to meet the seven candidates vying for the job of Dallas police chief. She came away believing Dallas needs a chief from inside the department.
“You don’t have time to do homework,” she says, executive director of Operation Community Care, a group that provides diapers, baby formula and other necessities to the needy. “You need to be able to come in and do what’s needed."
Four outside candidates and three internal candidates are vying for the job. Two females for the first time are among the finalists.
The candidates spent the day being grilled by six different panels selected by City Manager T.C. Broadnax. Each of the candidates is scheduled to meet with Broadnax Wednesday. He will make the final selection.
Detroit Deputy Chief Renee Hall comes from a city with many of the same challenges as Dallas. She believes what she’s gone through there will help give her a leg up in putting Dallas on the right path.
“Right now, Detroit is a comeback city,” she said. “We have homicide rates that are the lowest that they’ve been in 40 years over the last three years.”
Sources said police association representatives who were on the panel were impressed by Hall. Hall described herself as someone who could boost morale while at the same time building bridges with the community and fighting crime.
“This job is about skill,” she said. “It’s about the ability to lead. It’s about bringing a city that needs to heal together as a whole. I bring that.”
The chiefs agreed on the challenges: a manpower shortage, poor pay, low morale, rising response times and violent crime.
Since the start of the fiscal year, Dallas has lost more than 330 officers and about 75 more are scheduled to leave. Dallas is on track to lose the most officers in a single fiscal year in decades.
“I look at Dallas as at a juncture,” said Michel Moore, second in command of the Los Angeles Police Department. “It's an opportunity for me to come here and make a difference.”
Moore is a 36-year veteran of LAPD, a department that has also seen its share of hard times. “LA’s no nirvana,” he said. “We have challenges today, and we’ve worked through them and we are in a much better place today.”
He said he recognized that DPD is an agency that's hurting and in need of leadership. Asked what he would do if he got the job, he said he would kiss and hug his wife because “while he’s a busy individual now, the days and weeks ahead are going to get even busier.”
Dallas Assistant Chief Gary Tittle said he applied at one department 29 years ago and that was DPD. He said he’s applied for one chief’s job and that’s DPD.
“This is my city,” said Tittle, whose wife is also a DPD officer. “This is my department.”
He vowed that under his leadership, change would come to DPD. He said the status quo would not be acceptable.
“The officers -- the men and women -- they have got to have a voice in how things operate,” he said. “That’s something that we have not done lately, and that’s something that I will value strongly as I move forward.”
Dallas Deputy Chief Malik Aziz, a 28-year-veteran, said he believes he can be the first chief in a long time who can have a good relationship not just with the community, but with the officers as well.
“I bring a lot to the table,” he said. “I’m from Dallas, and I know this area. I know this department.”
Sources said Aziz presented a detailed plan to the panels on how he would reshape and reorganize the department. Aziz is well regarded by the rank and file, as well as in the community.
“I think that the City of Dallas is calling for me to be the police chief, and I want to answer that call,” he said.
Carmen Best, Seattle police department’s second in command, noted that many agencies are confronting similar issues to Dallas. She said she would make it a priority to work on the morale issues and ensure that officers know that they are valued.
She said she believes policing is a calling and about service. “It’s not about car chases and gunfights,” Best said. “It’s really important to hold officers accountable.”
Luther Reynolds, assistant chief of Montgomery County in Maryland, called Dallas a great city with a lot of challenges. He said he believes that he was up to the challenge. He described himself as a man with a passion for supporting his officers, as well as a man of integrity and faith.
Dallas Deputy Chief Rick Watson, a 40-plus year veteran, said he was honored and humbled to be among the finalists. Watson is the only Latino among the seven candidates.
“I put in for the job for the same reason that I wanted to become a police officer and that was to make a difference,” he said.
Sgt. Sheldon Smith, who served on one of the six panels, says first and foremost Dallas needs a strong leader.
“We need someone with a vision and a plan to address our crime issues, someone that has the trust of our officers on the street and that all boils down to good leadership and partnership with the community,” he said.
Mike Walton, president of the Dallas Fraternal Order of Police, said Dallas needs a leader who will listen to the rank and file.
“Right now, we’re a sinking ship,” he said. “We need a leader that’s going to give directions on how to fix this sinking ship,” he said.
Walton, however, was critical of Broadnax’s decision to ask the City Council to pay a new chief above the top level of the pay scale at a time when police officers' take-home pay is being cut to pay for the pension bailout.
The current top pay for the chief of police is $213,000. The council has given Broadnax the authority to pay whatever he deems appropriate.
“For him to come out and say we need to pay for the best, what about the people that are already here?” Walton said. “What does that say to the rank and file who go out and answer calls? Are we not the best?”
Back at the mall, Berry hopes that the right man or woman gets the job.
“If the wrong person gets in, we all suffer not just the police department but the community also,” she said.
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