Pick For Top Cop Did Not Reduce Violent Crime In Dallas. How Will He Do In Chicago?

David Brown
Then Dallas Police Chief David Brown discusses his retirement during a news conference, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016, in Dallas. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has named Brown as her pick to lead the Chicago Police Department. LM Otero / AP
David Brown
Then Dallas Police Chief David Brown discusses his retirement during a news conference, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016, in Dallas. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has named Brown as her pick to lead the Chicago Police Department. LM Otero / AP

Pick For Top Cop Did Not Reduce Violent Crime In Dallas. How Will He Do In Chicago?

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At the press conference last week announcing David Brown as her pick to lead the Chicago Police Department, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Brown helped “Dallas’ violent crime rate to drop to 50 year lows” during his six years as police chief.

But data from Brown’s tenure show that while overall crime decreased, violent crime and murders did not.

Experts from Dallas said the crime numbers paint a complex picture of Brown as a police leader.

In 2010, Brown’s first partial year as chief, Dallas suffered 148 homicides, according to data from the Dallas Police Department. In Brown’s final year as chief, 2016, there were 172 killings. The city’s murder rate, which is the number of homicides compared to the city’s population, fluctuated throughout Brown’s tenure, but was basically the same when he left the chief’s office as it was when he entered it.

In 2014, the city experienced an 80-year low in homicides, with 116. But those numbers immediately climbed back up in the following years.

Overall violent crime in Dallas, including things like rape and assault, was similarly unchanged under Brown. At the start of his tenure as chief, and at the end of it, Dallas had the same violent crime rate of about 7.6 incidents per 1,000 residents.

“That’s not going to happen”

University of Texas-Dallas Criminology Professor Alex Piquero said he doesn’t think those unchanging violent crime numbers accurately reflect Brown’s impact on Dallas.

“I think the city of Chicago is very fortunate to have someone of his experience, his leadership, his candor and his demeanor,” Piquero said.

But Piquero also warned Chicagoans against expecting Brown to come in and fix the city’s gun violence problem.

“To think that a police chief, any police chief, is going to come into any city and solve the homicide problem, that’s not going to happen,” Piquero said. “They can do very little about getting people to stop, you know, killing each other over guns and stuff like that. They just don’t have the power to do that.”

Anthony Galvan, with the Institute for Urban Policy Research at the University of Texas at Dallas, agreed that Brown didn’t have much control over homicides and other violent crime levels in Dallas.

Galvan said most violence in Dallas is interpersonal, and gangs and drug dealing are not major factors.

“Increased patrol and stuff like that doesn’t doesn’t keep, you know, a man from beating his wife,” Galvan said. “Dallas isn’t this huge hotbed of gang violence. And so, you know, a reduction in violent crime is not necessarily a product of policing.”

When asked if that would be a problem for Brown, since Chicago does struggle with street violence, Galvan said he didn’t think so, and that Brown did have anti-gang strategies when he was in charge.

Still, Galvan said it was “debatable” whether Brown had any lasting impact on violence in Dallas.

Piquero said a better measure of Brown’s strategic decision making was the city’s steady drop in non-violent crimes between 2010 and 2016.

While violent crime stayed flat, the overall crime rate dropped by about 20 incidents per 1,000 residents under Brown’s leadership.

“Police chiefs can do very little about stopping someone inside a house or a parking lot from killing someone … They can do more with respect to burglaries and robberies by altering the conditions in some of the hot spots in terms of, you know, inundating certain areas with police officers and getting gang members and career criminals off the street,” Piquero said. “But, you know, at the end of the day, what matters the most is what the police do. And if you train them and empower them, they can have localized effects on crime in certain areas for certain crime types.”

“He really cared”

Brown was able to drastically reduce the number of complaints of excessive force against officers. Experts in Dallas credit policy changes implemented by Brown related to foot pursuits, use of force and de-escalation.

In 2010, the year Brown took over as chief, citizens made 127 complaints of “inappropriate force” against a total of 230 officers, according to Dallas Police Department data.

In 2016, the year Brown retired, there were 21 such complaints against 39 officers.

Terrance Hopkins, a longtime Dallas police officer and President of the Black Police Association of Greater Dallas, said Brown was a “stickler” for officers treating people the right way, and always held bad cops accountable.

“I’ve seen Chief Brown fire more officers than you can shake a stick at,” Hopkins said.

Piquero said Brown deserves credit for dramatically changing the way Dallas police officers interacted with citizens while reducing the overall crime rate.

“It sounds kind of cheesy, but, you know, he really cared about police treating citizens in a very fair way,” Piquero said. “He embraced the idea of procedural justice and legitimacy of how police should interact with their citizens.”

But Brown was not able to have a similar impact on the number of shootings by his officers. Data from the Dallas Police Department show that during his six years as leader, Dallas police averaged more than 16 shootings per year. In the decade before he took over, the department averaged about 15 annual shootings.

Sara Mokuria, a co-founder of the Dallas-based Mothers Against Police Brutality, said that lack of change in shooting numbers showed the true lack of progress under Brown.

Mokuria said Brown did a good job reaching out to the community, and often “said the right things” after shootings or other high-profile incidents involving police. But she said Brown did not fundamentally change the behavior of Dallas officers, as she believed was necessary.

It was like lipstick on a pig. You know, the words, the words often were what we wanted to hear,” Mokuria said. “But the actions were rarely there.”

Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice Desk. Follow him @pksmid. Email him at psmith@wbez.org.