Editor's note: Two former Dallas police chiefs, as well as dozens of retired assistant and deputy chiefs, have all signed an extraordinary letter, outlining what they believe to be the crisis facing the Dallas Police Department and public safety.
We, the undersigned, are retired Dallas police executives having served as either Police Chief, Assistant Chief or Deputy Chief. We have extensive experience managing the complex organization of the Dallas Police Department and, in some cases, other departments around the country. We have all also been officers on the street in Dallas. Collectively, we represent 900 plus years of law enforcement service. We share tremendous respect for both the men and women who have been Dallas officers in the past and those who serve today.
We also share a desire to see that the citizens of Dallas continue to receive the finest in law enforcement service. The professional stature of the department and safety of the citizens have been earned through great sacrifice. For these reasons we are compelled to comment on a looming law enforcement crisis in Dallas fueled by a police and fire pension system in financial crisis.
Too much of the recent debate has focused on assigning blame… of pointing fingers. This letter seeks to focus more on consequences of ill-conceived proposed solutions. Consequences include an inevitable rise in serious crime as Dallas loses officers and is unable to replace them. It has already begun. As of this writing the department currently has 400 vacancies. We’ve seen the correlation before: After years of being understaffed and facing a huge tide of serious crimes that made Dallas one of the more dangerous large cities in the country, the citizens and city government launched an effort to raise the number of officers to 3 per 1000 citizens. That commitment was a major factor in leading to a twelve year decrease in major crime and made Dallas one of the safest cities in the country. It is not hyperbole to say that hundreds of lives were saved by those efforts. Sadly, with the rhetoric surrounding the pension crisis, we are seeing a mounting increase in officer vacancies and sharp increases in serious crime.
Dallas officers’ pay is considerably lower than that of many surrounding cities. The job they face is more dangerous than in those same cities. Historically, Dallas officers have faced those challenges and hardships because they thought that they had a rock solid pension that was backed by the City of Dallas. Having those trusts and beliefs shattered by the crisis and by demeaning statements of officials has resulted in many officers seeking employment elsewhere. We believe that trend will accelerate in the near future.
The cost of recruiting and training one officer to the point that he or she can contribute to the department’s mission is at least $250,000. These processes takes eighteen months to two years from the date the recruit starts the police academy. This all assumes that adequate numbers of qualified applicants are available. If the pension issue is not resolved in a manner that demonstrates that the city values and will protect the livelihood of its officers and retirees, those qualified applicants will go to other police departments.
The result will be a steady increase in serious crime. Many of us worked in this city when 350 murders per year was common. One year we topped 500 homicides. By 2014 that number had been reduced to 116. We do not want to see that horrible loss of life return.
There have been many omissions and incorrect statements made about the cause of the problems with the pension fund. We must address a few.
• Dallas officers must join the pension when they begin employment. There is no option.
• Officers’ employment is not eligible for Social Security. Neither the officer nor the city contribute to nor do retirees draw Social Security based on police employment.
• DROP was created in Dallas, as in many other cities, as a mechanism to retain experienced officers. Officers were asked to remain on the department, yet forgo earning credit for additional years of service (at 3 percent of their salary for each year) for computation of their pension. The city retained experienced officers who were eligible to retire and did not incur recruiting, hiring and training costs that would have been required to replace them had they left city employment. This adds up to a great budget savings each year for the City of Dallas and avoids the drop in efficiency that is inevitable in the cycle of replacing experienced officers. We are convinced that this strategy contributed significantly to the decrease in crime that Dallas enjoyed.
• DROP was vetted by actuaries for the pension system, the city and the state. There were three City Council member positions on the pension board when DROP was created, a forth was soon added. Other City Council members and city management officials were briefed. News media reported on the entire process.
• The Pension Board required that a review be conducted after five years of DROP to ensure that it was “cost neutral” to the system. That review determined that it was positive to the system at that point. Suggestions that the DROP program was unsustainable from the beginning, or that its creation was behind closed doors by officers for self-serving reasons are false.
• There seems to be little doubt that in subsequent years the decline in the economy, poor investment strategies and careless actions by the Board, including infrequent attendance of City Council members appointed to the Board, resulted in the decline that has brought us to this point. It remains to be seen if any of those actions and inactions rise to the level of criminal conduct. If so, this group supports vigorous prosecution of the individuals responsible.
• The active members of the Pension System have already voted to reduce the interest paid on DROP accounts to try to preserve the fund.
It is clear to us that the general membership of the plan are victims in this case and that some politicians have tried to paint them as schemers in order to deliberately destroy the pension system and substitute a defined contribution plan. They are demanding that if the plan is to be saved it be done by reducing earned benefits, “restating” interest which has already been legally paid, seizing accounts of individuals who have done no wrong and refusing to relinquish them except as a forced “annuity.”
This direction has been taken to preserve city money and bonding capacity for “transformative projects”. Quite obviously, the City of Dallas has to balance all needs. So-called “deferred maintenance” on infrastructure has been deferred too long and we understand that. But no city service is more basic or crucial than that provided by police officers and firefighters. Every person with a voice or vote in this crisis should be mindful of the sacrifices made by current and retired officers, their surviving spouses and orphans.
The City of Dallas should honor its commitments to those who have given so much.
As of March 30, 2017, the following list of former command staff members of the Dallas Police Department has either took part in the drafting and/or creating of this document. They also have read and are in complete agreement with the letter:
Ben Click, Chief of Police
Billy Prince, Chief of Police
Daniel Garcia, Assistant Chief of Police and former Chief of Police, Phoenix, AZ.
Lowell Cannaday, Assistant Chief of Police and former Chief of Police, Irving, TX..
Lou Caudell, First Assistant Chief of Police and former Chief of Police, Little Rock, AR.
Marlin Price, Assistant Chief of Police and former Chief of Police, Southlake, TX.
Shirley Gray, Assistant Chief of Police
Tom Ward, Assistant Chief of Police
Roger Duncan, Deputy Chief of Police and former Sheriff Kendall County, TX.
Douglas Kowalski, Deputy Chief of Police and Chief of Police, Prosper, TX.
Mark Moeller, Lieutenant of Police and former Chief of Police, Rockwall, TX.
Grant Lappin, Deputy Chief of Police and former Chief of Police, Baylor Health Care Police Dept.
Ron Waldrop, Assistant Chief of Police
Assistant Chief of Police Vincent Golbeck
Assistant Chief of Police Robert Jackson
Assistant Chief of Police John Holt
Assistant Chief of Police Manny Vasquez
Assistant Chief of Police Willie Taylor
Deputy Chief of Police David Elliston
Deputy Chief of Police Zackary Belton
Deputy Chief of Police John Martinez
Deputy Chief of Police Jill Muncy
Deputy Chief of Police Julian Bernal
Deputy Chief of Police Andrew Acord
Deputy Chief of Police Craig Miller
Deputy Chief of Police Gloria Perez
Deputy Chief of Police Janice Easterling
Deputy Chief of Police Sherryl Scott
Deputy Chief of Police Nancy Kirkpatrick
Deputy Chief of Police Tammy Ellzey
Deputy Chief of Police Mona Neill
Deputy Chief of Police
WFAA has reached out to Dallas Police Department for a response.