It’s difficult to imagine a more difficult challenge than running a police force during the worst massacre of law enforcement officers since 9/11 — all against the backdrop of intense protest and ideological scrutiny. No one can do it perfectly — indeed, it’s difficult to even imagine what perfection would look like under these circumstances — but it’s hard to conceive of a more effective public voice than Dallas Police Chief David Brown. At a time when the loudest voices are seeking to increase conflict and often capitalize on tragedy, he’s charted a different course entirely. He’s a reformer who’s responded to the shootings from a position of credibility with many liberals and conservatives.
Writing in the Washington Post, Radley Balko has comprehensively outlined Chief Brown’s reforms, including his measures to reduce the use of deadly force, increase transparency and accountability, and pull back from using traffic citations as a revenue source rather than a safety measure. Until last year, his reforms correlated with a decrease in violent crime. Last year, however, homicides ticked upwards, and this year the increase has continued. While more data is needed, if anything Chief Brown had moved too far towards police reform when the attack happened.
Since the attack, he’s done four key things that have helped defuse tensions. First, he’s helped squelch a budding controversy regarding his use of a robot-delivered bomb to end the standoff with Micah Johnson by clearly and plainly laying out the facts. In short, with the shooter hidden behind a brick corner, the only way to take a shot was to expose officers to danger, negotiations were proving fruitless (he was “laughing” and “singing”), and he was concerned that Johnson would charge the officers to take out a few more. Here’s Chief Brown explaining it to Jake Tapper:
I’m sure there are Dallas readers who can provide more context and information about Chief Brown’s tenure (including critiques of his performance), but these statements — combined with his demeanor and conviction — have not only helped humanize the police in the face of their worst critics, they’ve helped demonstrate the challenges of modern policing. And they come from a place of deep pain and hard-earned experience. His own son — a young man who struggled with mental illness — was shot and killed by police after he killed an officer during a “psychotic breakdown.” Brown lost his younger brother to drug violence, and his former partner was gunned down in the line of duty. That’s more pain than one man should have to bear.
In a time when our leaders are in the habit of failing, it’s heartening to watch a man of apparent strength and integrity respond to tragedy with courage and conviction.