Grassroots activists have worked for years, with limited success, to draw attention to the Dallas Police Department’s use of deadly force — especially fatal shootings of African Americans.
Now, those activists have some fresh ammunition, if you will, in the form of a new report showing that Dallas recorded the third-highest rate of fatal police shootings among the nation’s 10 largest cities from 2010 through 2014.
The report from the Chicago-based Better Government Association, believed to be the first to compare the number of fatal police shootings in the nation’s largest cities, was compiled in the wake of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014.
The report found that Dallas, the nation’s ninth-largest city, recorded 34 fatal police shootings — a rate of 2.7 per 100,000 residents — over the last five years. That rate was the highest in Texas, followed by Houston at No. 5 (2.23), and behind only Phoenix (3.77) and Philadelphia (3.48) nationally.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said civil rights attorney Shayan Elahi, counsel for the police accountability group Dallas Communities Organizing for Change. “The stats are horrific, and they clearly indicate a problem, whether the city likes to admit it or not. Facts don’t lie.”
Elahi’s group filed an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice in December calling on the feds to cut off funding for the Dallas Police Department (DPD) until “systemic police misconduct” is remedied. The complaint is pending, and DOJ representatives didn’t respond to a request for comment.
According to the complaint, Dallas recorded 58 fatal police shootings from mid-2002 to 2013. While the Better Government Association report doesn’t include information about race, the complaint states that African Americans, who account for only 25 percent of Dallas’ population, were victims in more than half of those cases (33).
Elahi said the complaint was filed after local officials refused to address the group’s concerns, an allegation echoed by other grassroots activists. But Sgt. Warren Mitchell, a spokesman for DPD, insisted that’s not the case.
Mitchell pointed to DPD’s website, which details recent changes to policy governing the use of deadly force. The changes include automatic notification of the FBI, creation of a community engagement team and ongoing training for officers. DPD also recently began posting information about officer-involved shootings online, which Elahi said was one of the positive outcomes of the DOJ complaint.
“It’s something that has been looked at, not only from our perspective, but from a community perspective as well,” Mitchell said. “We definitely hear them, and we’re doing what we can.”
The Dallas City Council recently agreed to purchase 1,000 police body cameras, but that accounts for fewer than one-third of DPD’s officers, and Mitchell acknowledged that the department still has no formal policy for their use.
Collette Flanagan, founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality, said although it may appear DPD has made progress, she believes those advances are superficial.
Flanagan, whose unarmed son was shot seven times and killed by a Dallas officer in 2013, called for independent investigations into police shootings. She said district attorneys are too often beholden to police unions that help fund their campaigns, adding that no Dallas officer has been indicted for a fatal shooting in 42 years.
Flanagan also called for drug testing of officers involved in fatal shootings, as well as elimination of a DPD rule that allows them to remain silent for 72 hours afterward and review video before making a statement.
“I wouldn’t say things have gotten better on the drilldown,” said Flanagan, who called DPD’s community engagement teams “a farce.”
“We don’t care about you coming to our community and having barbecue and drinking soda with us,” she said. “We want you to stop killing our kids.”