DALLAS - Two years ago this month, a gunman, armed with bombs, drove an armored van and attacked Dallas police headquarters. A member of the SWAT team killed him with a 50-caliber gun, ending the standoff.
City officials have repeatedly promised to make fixes to better secure police facilities. The city hired a consultant to conduct a security assessment of the facilities a month after the attack.
Some of those long-awaited security upgrades to headquarters and the city’s seven patrol stations are finally moving forward. The city will spend about $1 million on the patrol lobbies and as much as $2 million on the headquarters lobby.
“We’ve had real-life events happen and to the extent possible, we want to avoid future events like that,” says Errick Thompson, director of equipment and building services. “It's taken longer than I would have liked for it to take.”
Next month, the city expects to start upgrades to the lobbies of the patrol stations. Bullet-resistant glass and panels will be installed in each of the lobbies. The project is slated to be completed later this year.
The plan is to move forward with a reconfiguration of the headquarters lobby by the fall and to complete it by spring. The city only received one bid on the headquarters project. Thompson’s staff is still analyzing the bid to determine if it’s fair. He hopes to put it on the August council agenda.
As it stands, when a person walks into the headquarters lobby, the first thing you see is an officer operating a metal detector and officers sitting out in the open at the information desk.
That will all change with the reconfiguration.
People entering headquarters will find themselves entering into a bullet-resistant walkway.
There will be bullet-resistant glass and paneling around the information desk “to make sure we’ve got all the officers encapsulated with better protection,” Thompson said. The customer service windows for the records unit would receive similar protection.
But other security upgrades such as fencing and installing bollards at the patrol stations will have to wait for future bond funding. The Dallas City Council is still hashing out the details of that bond package that's expected to go the voters in November.
It could be years before those upgrades actually happen even if voters approve the package.
Mike Mata, president of the Dallas Police Association, is pleased lobby upgrades are about to become a reality. But he, other police officers and a security expert interviewed by WFAA are concerned at the slow pace of the other upgrades.
“It’s a good thing for the person coming in the front door with a gun, but what about the coming through the field in the back or coming through the side entrances,” Mata said
He’s skeptical about how long it will take for upgrades using bond money to be put on the drawing board, much less completed. Decades ago, the voters approved building a new police academy and firing range, he said. It never got built.
“At headquarters, if we had lost multiple officers or civilians something would have been done by now,” he said. “It’s just now this city works. Nothing’s actually a catastrophe until it’s actually a catastrophe.”
Thompson said he will recommend to the city manager that the money in the bond package for police facility security upgrades be placed at the top of the list.
“They have a tough job, so I completely understand their frustration, but the same time they have to understand we don’t have endless resources,” Thompson said. “Most of these stations and substations were built in a different era. You didn’t see the level of violence on that scale 12, 15 years ago when [headquarters] was built or 40 years ago for sure when most of the patrol stations were built.”
Locke Neely, a former Secret Service Agent, met WFAA at northwest patrol.
The first thing he noticed was that there was a clear path to drive right through the front doors of the station. The station, like most of the city’s patrol stations, does not have bollards.
A lobby upgrade would not fix that glaring security gap, he says.
“You have the ability to do a lot of damage,” says Neely, vice president of global risk operations for Trident Response Group, a Dallas-based company.
His trained eyes saw security gaps everywhere.
There’s an unfenced grassy area beside the station. Someone could walk through that area and be at the back of the station within minutes. Someone could also easily drive into the back parking lot before the officer watching the station could react, he says.
“The entire perimeter is exposed,” he said. “It is so exposed that it is frightening.”
He recommends putting in fencing that cannot be scaled and electronic gates. He says the department should put up signage, prohibiting people from entering any patrol station with backpacks, bags or briefcases, because of the danger that someone could enter with a weapon or an explosive device.
“These people every day they go out and put themselves in harm’s way," Neely said. "Let's not put them in harm's way in the building in which they operate.”
Senior Cpl. Steve Stribley, president of the State Fraternal Order of Police, fears for his safety and other officers when he comes to work at northeast patrol.
The station has no fencing or any barriers. He showed WFAA an unfenced tree line that faces the parking lot where officers come and go.
“There’s absolutely no security and this is about the same at every location,” he says. “Anything could happen. A lot of officers will work deep nights or the night shift, so when you're getting and it's late at night, I don't know how you could be able to see anybody in dark clothing.”
There have already been incidents at some of the stations.
In February, someone opened fire on south central patrol with an assault rifle. A few months later, a man showed up to the city’s southwest patrol station with two guns and lots of ammunition.
Even before the headquarters attack, the police associations warned the city that something bad could happen due to the lack of security at police facilities.
While security upgrades at police facilities have languished, Dallas City Council has approved spending more than $3 million since 2008 to make City Hall safer. They’ve bulletproofed the horseshoe, installed more security cameras, built a safe room in case of an attack, closed off some of the entrances, just to name a few of the changes.
“I’ve been here 27 and half years,” Stribley said. “The city will say one thing and do another. We always trust what somebody does over what they say, and the city has shown that they don’t really care about our security and well-being.”
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