Editor’s Note: U. Renee Hall assumed command of the 3050-member Dallas Police Department on Sept. 5. Hall was born and raised in Detroit. She spent 18 years on the Detroit Police Department. This is the second of three stories introducing News 8 viewers to Hall.
Detroit. The other Big D. It’s the birthplace of Motown. For decades, it was the engine of the auto industry.
“I was born and raised here, so as a little girl, I played in the city streets of Detroit,” says U. Renee Hall, Dallas’s new police chief.
It’s a city that lost more than half its population. After earning the nickname “Murder City” in the mid-70s, neighborhoods were left deserted. Many schools shut their doors. Even Hall’s high school now stands vacant and boarded up.
“It’s disheartening knowing that this is the neighborhood high school,” Hall says as we drive past it. “We came from all around -- all parts of the area -- to come to this high school.”
This is the city that shaped Hall.
“This city has shown me how to be resilient in a time of crisis and just to keep striving for the best because we've hit rock bottom in the city of Detroit,” she says.
Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon was Detroit’s chief when she was hired onto the department 18 years ago.
“She had a tough but solid upbringing,” he says. “It's a town that's always valued people that work hard and people who are honest and down to earth and just good folks.”
Four years ago, James Craig became chief of a bankrupt Detroit. He took over a department struggling with high crime, pay and pension cuts and cops leaving in droves – many of the same problems that Hall is now grappling with in Dallas.
At the time, Detroit had been under a federal consent decree for 10 years. There were accusations of illegal detentions and excessive force that led to that federal oversight.
“Often times, I say if you spent five years in Detroit, that's comparable probably to 10 or 15 years in other places,” Craig says.
Craig put Hall on the front lines of changing the department. He elevated her from a lieutenant acting as a precinct commander to the highest echelons of the department.
“The thing that stands out for me is how she builds bridges in the community,” he says.
Muhsin Muhammad, a police department volunteer, says Hall was well liked by the community and by her officers.
“I've watched her in the precincts talking to officers who may have not have felt that they were in a position to rise up, but she got them to do their job,” he says. “She convinced them to participate.”
Beverly Brown, a retired auto worker, has lived on the west side of Detroit for 40 years. About half of the homes on her block are vacant and boarded up.
“I love Detroit, with the good and the bad,” says Brown, who volunteers with the department.
She says Hall will be missed.
“What she has, you can't train people for in 30 days,” Brown says.
And if it wasn’t hot in Texas, she’d be tempted to move to Dallas, just so Hall would be her chief.
There’s still work to be done in Detroit, but violent crime is down significantly. The police force has stabilized. The federal oversight was lifted a year after he took over.
“If she follows the template and one thing I will say because I've worked with her for four years, she's going to hold people accountable,” Craig says. “But she's also going to balance that with making sure officer morale is high. Because you can't expect to have success if officers' morale is down.”
He did give Hall one piece of advice: “You hit the ground running because time is not your friend, and people want to see wins and they want to see them quickly. Life’s not always fair, but that’s not why we do these jobs.”
As we drove around Detroit with Hall, she pointed to all the signs that Detroit is a city in the midst of a revival. Its once-desolate downtown is bustling.
An example of that revival is the old Packard plant. The massive plant at one time turned around thousands of cars. It closed down decades ago and was stripped by vandals.
It’s now being transformed into a commercial and retail complex.
“You can come back,” Hall says. “Detroit is coming back each and every day."
For Hall, it was a long goodbye. People from all walks of life came to honor her last month. Hall says the lessons she learned in her hometown will serve her well in her new Big D.
“What I think I’ve learned most is if you continue to strive for the best, you will receive that,” she said. “You just have to have the right attitude in order to get it done. So that’s what the city of Detroit has taught me.”
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