Never should innocent police officers be targeted during the course of protecting citizens’ right to protest, not from any department. However, what makes the actions of Micah Johnson so deplorable is that the Dallas Police Department has become one of the best police departments in the whole country in terms of reforming its use of force and excessive force.

One of the more disturbing things about both Ferguson (and, more recently, Baton Rouge) has been the reaction of the police departments in question, who have taken to the streets with shows of force that are borderline military level and frankly a bit absurd in their tactics.

 


You could tell things were going to unfold differently in Dallas pretty much immediately when Chief David Brown (who has impressed me to no end during this sad tale) took to the microphone and made an impassioned statement in support of the Constitutional limits of domestic police force.

Perhaps not unexpectedly, Dallas has NOT erupted into a festering boil of racial unrest after this weekend. In fact, if anything, Dallas has come to embrace their police force even more fully than they had before. While many would have excused the Dallas PD for taking to the streets in riot gear and APCs in force, it is clear that their decision to de-escalate the situation (while still being cautious, as their lockdown on Saturday night illustrates) has worked and helped to cement the bonds between the community and the police force that are necessary to the maintenance of good order.

It’s no surprise to find this happening in Dallas, however. Under Chief Brown, the Dallas Police Department has become one of the best large police departments in the country – if not the very best – at using de-escalation of force and preventing violent contact between citizens and police.

The Dallas PD has in recent years taken seriously training in de-escalation techniques, violence prevention, and civil rights protection. The results have been an astounding success by every metric.

In 2009, 147 excessive force complaints were filed against the Department. Last year, there were only 19. Dallas PD has had, year after year, repeated drops in both officer-involved-shootings AND assaults on officers. And most importantly, violent crime continues to go down in Dallas.

A lot of people (like Rudy Giuliani) think in tremendously simplistic terms in terms of crime prevention. They believe that the only way to prevent crime is a constant escalation of both police force and presence. Giuliani can point to his own record as mayor of New York as proof that this approach – as you might expect – reduces crime. But it also comes with its own costs both in terms of liberty, of the generation of lingering resentment, and in terms of financial cost.

What the Dallas PD has shown is that there is more than one way to skin this particular cat – and if there’s a way to accomplish these same goals without people getting needlessly shot or a quasi-military force roaming our streets, wouldn’t we all prefer that? I’m sure the people of Dallas are grateful to have Chief Brown in office right now as their overwhelming support for the Dallas PD over the last few days shows.

Which is part of what makes this weekend’s shootings all the more appalling. Among all the police districts in the entire country for gunmen to target for random violence, they happened to pick one of the very best. Thankfully for the citizens of Dallas, their PD appears to be led by a chief who is sticking by his principles even when the impulse for blind revenge must be very strong.