Dallas Chief David Brown Led Efforts To Improve Policing

Jul 8, 2016
Originally published on July 11, 2016 2:14 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We're going to take a close look now at the Dallas Police Department. Last night, an armed man targeted police in the city, killing five officers and wounding another seven. Dallas has been held up as a model of police reform in recent years. And for that, many credit the leadership of Police Chief David Brown. As NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports, Brown has been through tragedy before, both professional and personal.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: David Brown has been a police officer since 1983, police chief since 2010. He was somber when he faced a bank of TV cameras this morning with shaved head, thick, black glasses and square jaw.

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DAVID BROWN: We're hurting. Our profession is hurting. We are heartbroken. There are not words, he said, to describe the atrocity that occurred to our city.

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BROWN: All I know is that this - this must stop, this divisiveness between our police and our citizens.

LUDDEN: This afternoon, appealing for unity, Brown proudly called himself a third-generation Dallasite - big D, he said. David Brown grew up in the Oak Cliff borough of Dallas. He said it was violence there that made him want to be a police officer. But through his career, he's been a victim of violence, too. In 1988, his police academy classmate and former partner was shot dead on duty. A few years later, Brown's brother was killed by drug dealers. Then, on Father's Day in 2010, it was his 27-year-old-son. Media reports said David Brown Jr.'s girlfriend had called police to say he was having a psychotic breakdown. Test results later showed PCP in his blood. Brown Jr. shot and killed a man, then shot dead the first police officer on the scene before being gunned down himself. Keith Humphrey was the police chief of the Dallas suburb at the time.

KEITH HUMPHREY: Well, it was a tragedy. The bottom line is a dad - I mean, can you just imagine not only losing your son, but to realize that your son - and you're the Dallas police chief - your son killed a fellow officer.

LUDDEN: Humphrey says David Brown asked him to arrange a meeting with the families of both men his son had killed.

HUMPHREY: I think it says a lot about his character. You know he was - he was in mourning, but he put other people first.

LUDDEN: Humphrey heard Brown apologize to them and tell them his son was not raised that way. Some say such loss has helped Police Chief Brown empathize with victims of police violence. At community meetings on the issue, the bald Brown likes to open with a favorite joke.

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BROWN: I came here with an afro, and this is what 31 years of policing has done.

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LUDDEN: He's been lauded for a recent dramatic drop in police shootings. And well before many other departments, he pushed for transparency.

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BROWN: It's so fragile, this trust. It's so difficult to earn because there's historical perspective in some communities that may have happened in the mid-'60s, where grandmothers and grandfathers tell these stories about how the police abused them.

LUDDEN: Richie Butler is pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Dallas. He says Brown doesn't just talk; he has a program called Chief on the Beat.

RICHIE BUTLER: The chief and his senior staff, they go out into the community to be present and to say, you know - you know, I'm taking my Saturday or whatever day, and I'm walking your neighborhood. And I'm here to hear your concerns.

LUDDEN: Still, like many cities this past year, Dallas has seen a spike in murders. Police Chief Brown's response has been controversial. In March, the Black Police Association of Greater Dallas called for his resignation. Fellow Police Chief Keith Humphrey says Brown is resilient. He'll get through this tough time, he says, and make sure Dallas does as well. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.