Call it the rapidly shrinking Dallas Police Department.
With 201 officers having gone out the door since Oct. 1, that number’s expected to hit 400 officers this fiscal year. It’ll be the most officers to leave in decades. Another 30 officers have put in their paperwork to leave.
“We're just chasing from call to call to call doing the best that we can,” said Sgt. Mike Mata, president of the Dallas Police Association. “We're going to have a serious, serious crime problem in the city of Dallas when this fiscal year is over with.”
DPD currently has just above 3,200 officers. It will soon dip below that mark for the first time in nine years. The department – currently led by an interim chief -- is a department beset with problems from all sides.
A pension crisis is driving many veteran police officers to call it quits. A morale crisis and low pay is driving many younger officers out the door.
It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul to try to fix the problems in its chronically understaffed 911 call center. The recent death of a 6-month-old brought those problems to light after a babysitter was left on hold for more than 30 minutes with 911. Now, the department is mandating that light duty officers go to the call center and asking for volunteers to go there for six-month assignments.
Sending officers there will only exacerbate the problems in the understaffed patrol divisions, driving up response times, said Mata and others.
During the years David Kunkle served as chief, the department saw its ranks and morale rapidly grow. The force reached a high of almost 3,700 officers during his tenure.
But since then, during the years that David Brown served as chief, the department’s ranks and morale began a downward slide. Last year, the pension situation blew up into a full-blown crisis. The department lost about 395 officers and only hired about 140 during that time period.
Brown, before he quit last year, had set a goal of hiring 550 new officers. That plan quickly proved unrealistic.
The department is still losing officers faster that it can replace them. Twenty-five officers graduated from the academy last week, but it will be many months before they can work by themselves. Another 75 recruits are in the academy.
“You are bleeding Dallas police in this city,” retired deputy chief Jill Muncy told council members Wednesday. “By the city’s own projection, with the amount of first responders leaving, it’s going to take over 10 years to recover.”
Her message was that the pension crisis was creating a public safety crisis.
“While white millionaires live in gated communities and employee off-duty officers for additional protection, the southeast, the south central and central communities will not be, will not be equally served,” she said.
Already, the effects of the lack of manpower are showing at the stations.
One police officer told WFAA that, when they came to work, calls were holding from seven hours earlier. It took all day to catch up.
Other officers have said that they are short-staffed that there’s no longer time to do formal briefing meetings known as “details.” Instead, they come in, get their car keys and hit the streets. Or if they do a detail, it’s a quick one in the parking lot or a hallway.
“Some days, some of us try to figure out why we came to work,” said an officer, who asked that he not be named because he feared retaliation. “All your experience is gone. Everyone’s that got 20 years or more, they’re leaving.”
He pointed out that the department’s count of officers includes recruits in the academy, so the staffing situation is even worse than the numbers suggest. He said one recently graduated officer, who was still in training, just quit to go to Pantego.
“He got a $9,000 raise,” he said. “The fact that he’s from Dallas made him a viable candidate over there in Pantego.”
He and other officers expect the situation to become much worse during the long, hot summer as the ranks continue to shrink.
“Patrol’s the whole backbone for this city, but you’re bending the backbone over backwards,” he said. “Officers are leaving because they’re being stabbed in the back. This job is one that you’re either going to get shot in the front or stabbed in the back. There’s an awful lot more stabbing in the back that’s going on.”
Mata told WFAA that an officer walked in Monday and told him that he was leaving.
“He’s just tired of the business,” Mata said. “He doesn’t want to do it anymore. He doesn’t even have a job. He’s educated. He’s got a degree. He’ll find a job. And he’s right and it’s DPD’s loss because he’s a dang good officer.”
And then are the people who live in the city of Dallas like Linda Garner. An ultrasound technician, she lives in the Cedars neighborhood just outside downtown.
It’s a transitional neighborhood of lofts and townhomes. She calls people like her “urban pioneers.” Garner knows all her neighbors.
But it’s also one where she routinely sees prostitution. As she spoke to WFAA, there was the constant foot traffic of homeless people walking to and from downtown. One man was yelling to no one and appeared to be high.
Garner has her protector. He’s a hound named Rufus.
“This is my fur missile,” she said.
But she wants to see more protectors in blue — that rapidly disappearing breed in Dallas.
Recently, she called police after seeing a man exposing himself two blocks from her home. Twenty minutes later, a sergeant called and asked if it was really necessary for officers to respond.
“They are overwhelmed,” she said. “They know it. And they're reaching out to us to see if we really need them or not, and that concerns me.”
Garner worries that the lack of officers will embolden criminals.
“The concern that worst-case scenario something bad will happen and we won’t be able to have help as a citizen and that it will happen on a larger scale,” she said. “I hope no one dies. I don’t want that to be the catalyst to get this fixed.”
Rufus makes her feel safer. He bit an intruder last summer. For that, he got a steak.
“He protects his mama,” Garner said.
But Rufus is no replacement for those protectors in blue.