Monday, September 14, 2020

Dallas chief resigns; Manley remains: WTF?

Grits should have mentioned Dallas police Chief Renee Hall's resignation in yesterday's post about the Dallas budget, but it seemed like a separate topic. She wasn't resigning over budget cuts, like the chief in Seattle. Rather, she left after a half dozen city council members declared they'd lost confidence in her leadership, largely as a result of a tone-deaf after action report that seemed to pre-exonerate officers for misconduct while overstating protester "violence." I wrote at the time:
In a way, I empathize with [Chief Hall]. Generations of white male chiefs in Dallas have gotten away with feeding the council and the press a load of horse shit and insisting they eat it. They always have done so before. Now a black woman is chief and they're going to hold her accountable?

But as my octogenarian father likes to say, "Fair is a place where they judge pigs." The George-Floyd protests were a polarizing experience for everyone involved and the DPD report came off as one-sided, defensive, and tone deaf.

Not very long ago, it would have been enough.

That said, if at any time over the last several months you'd told me they were replacing Brian Manley with Renee Hall, Grits would have taken that trade in a heartbeat. At least she did an after-action report! Austin hasn't seen one.

Viewed from afar, Chief Hall has appeared more open to the sorts of proposals put forward in Austin's 2020 budget than our own apparently un-fireable Chief-for-Life. For example, when the city and the Meadows Foundation proposed having mental-health professionals take the lead instead of cops on certain calls in a Dallas pilot program, even Sen. John Cornyn supported the idea. Chief Hall cooperated and helped figure out ways to make it work.

By contrast, APD under Chief Manley did everything they could to thwart and minimize a similar program in Austin, which ended up serving hardly any people. This year, the city council doubled down on the idea, overruling the chief's explicit and implicit objections. The new budget uses savings from delayed cadet classes to staff up extra paramedics to handle the mental-health and addiction caseloads, as well as separating the 911 call center from police control to keep officers from being sent to every scene.

Hall's departure highlights the difficulties old-school police chiefs are having coming to grips with the new, post-George-Floyd political reality. When what used to be veto power becomes advice ignored, we've seen life-long cops around the country take it as insulting and walk away from the chief's job. We've yet to see if a new crop of reformist chiefs step up or if departments keep recycling the same names from one city to the next.

Gee, I wonder what it's like to have your opinion ignored by decision makers? Well before George Floyd died, dozens of Austin groups called for Brian Manley's ouster, and we still can't get rid of him!

In many ways - whether regarding police accountability, bail reform, budgeting, arrest policies for marijuana, or other matters - law enforcement leaders appear unprepared to accept civilian leadership, or at least that's a theme that keeps cropping up. That's 100% what led to Brian Manley's troubles in Austin. The council would pass resolutions, directives, budget riders, you name it, and he continually kicked the reform can down the road. Finally, well before the George Floyd protests began, a huge swath of the community wanted him gone. I bet Spencer Cronk wishes he'd swapped Manley for Chief Hall back in April!

Chief Hall wasn't perfect. Her department's response to protests this summer was regrettably violent and ham handed and she seemed to be less of a reformer than perhaps "reform-tolerant." Grits didn't view her as a champion of change in Dallas, but neither was she its biggest opponent. (That would be the police union.)

Still, that Renee Hall is gone in Dallas and Chief Manley - a much more energetic reform opponent - remains in charge of the Austin Police Department speaks to the unpredictable nature of protest movements. How officialdom reacts can be quite localized and based on a handful of individuals' personal decisions. That's true both of Chief Hall's decision to leave and also Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk's decision to stake his own tenure on Chief Manley after the City Council issued a unanimous "no confidence" vote criticizing his leadership.


Gadfly said...

Agreeed overall. That said, keeping the focus within Dallas, while Hall was the first black woman police chief, she wasn't the first black police chief.

Also, Jim Schutze, back in the days before he jumped on the Amber Guyger bandwagon, thought she was in over her head.

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