A year later, Dallas mourns five officers killed in sniper attack
Sam Eichenwald/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(DALLAS) — One year after five law enforcement officers were gunned down by a sniper in Dallas — the deadliest day for United States law enforcement since 9/11 — the city is still grieving, according to former Dallas Police Chief David Brown.
On the night of July 7, 2016, 25-year-old Micah Johnson opened fire on officers during a peaceful demonstration against police brutality in Dallas.
As chaos erupted, demonstrators scattered, but officers protected them and ran toward the gunfire.
The targeted attack on law enforcement left five officers dead: Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, Sgt. Michael Smith Officer Michael Krol and Officer Patrick Zamarripa, all of the Dallas Police Department, and Officer Brent Thompson of Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART).
Among the slain officers was a newlywed, who married a fellow officer weeks earlier. Another victim was the father of a toddler daughter.
Johnson was ultimately killed after a standoff with police.
A city mourns and remembers
At a vigil days later, Brown, who was then Dallas’ police chief, said in a powerful speech that superheroes are “like cops,” and he quoted “Superman.”
“Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound,” Brown said. “Look it’s a train, it’s a plane, no, it’s Patricio Zamarripa. Look, it’s Brent Thompson. Look, it’s Michael Krol. Look, it’s Lorne Ahrens. Look, it’s Michael Smith.”
Brown retired several months later, after 33 years with the police department. He is now an ABC News contributor and told ABC News Wednesday that the city is still grieving.
“It’s just tough when you talk about it, everyone gets emotional, we all tear up. It’s like reliving it over again,” he said.
For the families of the slain officers, “A year is not that long a time to lose someone and try to get over it,” Brown said. “The families are really struggling still, which is to be expected.”
Several other officers and some civilians were wounded in the attack. Brown said the injured and witnesses are especially having a difficult time with the first anniversary and called it a “mixed bag” of emotions as people try to show how much they appreciate the officers’ sacrifices but balance that with their own grief. The memorial events of “the next couple of days are going to be really tough,” he added.
Events this week include a candlelight vigil this evening at City Hall plaza and the dedication of a memorial called the Dallas Circle of Heroes, which was unveiled earlier Thursday.
The circular memorial highlights the story of each slain officer and represents the officers “together battling the same cause,” Dallas Police Interim Chief David Pughes said at the unveiling.
Pughes called the memorial “a shining example of that support and that faith that the community has for the men and women of the Dallas Police Department,” and he said that’s what keeps officers motivated to continue to take the same risks that the “fallen heroes did that very tragic evening.”
DART Police Chief James Spiller at the unveiling ceremony Thursday also described it as “mixed emotions.”
“We miss our colleagues, but we’re grateful for the continued support from our community,” he said.
“We struggle some days to work through our emotions and still ask ‘Why?'” Spiller said, adding that this week will not only help them heal and remind them of that night, but also remind them why they wear the uniform.
Changes at the Dallas Police Department
Besides Brown’s retirement, changes inside the department this year have included new protective equipment for officers and offering more mental health services, said Assistant Chief Randy Blankenbaker of the Dallas police.
Blankenbaker told ABC News Thursday that the department is working toward having more protective equipment available to officers, including ballistic helmets, more ballistic shields and higher-level vests to protect officers against rifle fire.
“We’re going to make sure that we get enough of those vests to provide them to every officer who wants one who works in the field,” he said. “Those are things that would not have been available to them a year ago.”
Blankenbaker said another change was establishing services to treat employees’ emotional and mental health. He said the department hopes to continue this “robust” emotional and mental health plan going forward “so we have those services always available and not just in times [of] extreme tragedy.”
The department was also afflicted by a pension crisis this year.
The Associated Press reported that “the city’s police and fire pension system fell into a financial crisis, prompting hundreds of officers to retire to avoid impending cuts to benefits and increases in contributions.”
“Texas lawmakers stepped in recently to mediate a plan to fix the fund over the next few decades, but the plan includes sacrifices. … Benefits for future retirees will be cut, the retirement age raised and the contributions for officers increased significantly,” the AP reported. “Union officials worry that the changes that go into effect in September, though necessary, will increase the retirements and the flight of younger officers to neighboring departments.”
Brown said police department morale is “pretty low if you ask officers about pay and benefits … especially pension and starting pay.”
Brown said that as veteran officers left this year during the pension crisis, the department could not keep pace with hiring, leaving staffing now at the lowest point in a decade — despite an uptick in police applications after the shooting.
Which brings the department to another change this year — a significant reduction in staff.
Blankenbaker said a little over 3,100 officers are employed with the Dallas Police Department right now, though the department is budgeted for 3,613.
At the department’s all-time high, they had 3,690 officers, he said.
Blankenbaker said the department is continuing to recruit at job fairs and colleges but it’ll “take awhile to recover.”
DART, which employs more than 200 officers and is separate from Dallas police, has not made any changes this year, Mark Ball of DART Media Relations said.
“Even though the tragic events took place off of our property, our police are prepared to provide responsive police services on and near the DART transit system,” Ball said. “On that night, our officers did what they were supposed to do. They reacted to an incident unfolding and responded.”
Unity through community policing
To Brown, the key that kept the city unified after this tragedy was the department’s community policing efforts.
Brown says Dallas “is considered the gold standard for policing, particularly community policing.”
“We were doing everything that critics want departments to do as it relates to engaging the community: focusing on young people, people of color, high-crime areas. Creating more and more interactions between communities and officers when no crisis occurs. Being transparent. Holding officers accountable. We had touched all the bases,” Brown said, noting that there “was high energy around making sure that we’re advancing our community-oriented policing department.
“[If] we had bad relationships or controversial things unattended here, we were likely to have a much more divided city after July 7,” Brown said. Without community policing the city was “likely to have rioting and property damage and likely more violence toward citizens. So I think the takeaway was community policing efforts, even through tragedies, can hold your city together.”
Brown said he thinks after the attack the city’s resident-cop relationship improved even further.
“Almost immediately … citizens expressed appreciation for us more,” he said. “It may have always been there, but it wasn’t expressed as much.”
And Pughes at the memorial unveiling Thursday cited the community’s support for helping the police go on.
“If it wasn’t for the strength that the community showed us,” he said, “I don’t know what we would have done or how we would have moved forward.”
The targeting of cops
The officer ambush in Dallas wasn’t the only targeted attack on law enforcement last year. Ten days after the Dallas shooting, a gunman targeted officers in Baton Rouge, killing three and injuring three others.
Last year, the U.S. saw the most felonious (intentional) deaths of law enforcement officers in five years, with 92 intentional deaths, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
The lowest of the past five years was 2013, when the deaths of 49 law enforcement officers were considered felonious.
As of July 6, this year there have been 36 law enforcement deaths that are considered felonious. One of those was just this week, when a New York City police officer was gunned down in a marked police command vehicle, in an attack the New York City police commissioner called an unprovoked assassination.
To Brown, it feels like the targeting of cops is getting worse.
“Every time we think that we’re going to improve the relationship, either a viral video comes out showing a cop shooting an unarmed person, or a cop just doing their job is ambushed and killed,” Brown said. “So it seems like we stay divided with these incidents happening on both sides.”
The Dallas attack came after a Fourth of July weekend of police-involved shootings caught on video that left the nation on edge: Alton Sterling, a black man, was shot and killed during an altercation with Baton Rouge police officers on July 5, and Philando Castile, another black man, was shot and killed in a police encounter in Minnesota on July 6.
The Baton Rouge and Minnesota shootings sparked protests throughout the country, including the peaceful protest in Dallas on July 7, 2016.
One year later, no officers involved in the Baton Rouge or Minnesota shootings has been convicted. The Department of Justice said this May that federal prosecutors found insufficient evidence to charge either officer involved in Sterling’s shooting and the officer who fatally shot Castile was acquitted of manslaughter last month.
However, despite the strain on police-community relations and the targeting of cops, Brown says officers won’t be deterred. He noted that as he’s traveled the country this year, he’s not seen any pullback of professionalism anywhere.
“Even in the face of hyper-criticism — maybe in some cases well deserved — and also in the face of these ambush-style killings, cops come to work and do their job the right way, day in and day out, at the highest levels,” Brown said.
He says New York City police are still going to work this week after their colleague was gunned down, even though the officers know they are at risk of getting gunned down, too.
“It’s just a brave, courageous group of people, men and women, who in the face of most dangerous circumstance or the most hypercritical circumstance, come in to do their job in the most professional way,” he said.
Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.