Caught Between Reform and a Hard Place

By John Buntin, Governing

Dallas Police Chief David Brown rose to national attention on a hot night in July, after a sniper at a protest against police violence killed five officers and wounded nine more. In the aftermath of the shooting, Brown’s no-nonsense presence, words of support and emphatic actions comforted his police department and the city of Dallas while also respecting the constitutional rights of the hundreds of people who had come out that evening to protest the police killing of an unarmed man in Minnesota the previous day.

Two months later, when Brown announced he would retire, he was hailed as a local hero, and not just for his masterful handling of the sniper shootings. As chief, Brown had embraced social media, using Facebook to release unprecedented amounts of information on officer-involved shootings. He also accelerated efforts to rethink one of the most basic tenets of policing — how officers respond to incidents that involve the potential use of force. Brown’s push toward reforms of the Dallas Police Department attracted praise from the likes of former New York Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton, who had described Brown as a “consummate professional who represents some of the best progressive police leadership today.”

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