Brown has become one of the most visible figures in the country's ongoing conversations about policing and race

By Adam Carlson
July 13, 2016 01:55 PM
ERIK S. LESSER/EPA

On Friday, Dallas Police Chief David Brown bared a broken heart before his city.

“We’re hurting,” he said, just hours after a sniper attack at a previously peaceful Black Lives Matter protest downtown left five officers dead and nine more wounded. “Our profession is hurting. We are heartbroken.”

It wasn’t the first time Brown had been deeply hurt by a shooting tragedy.

Six years ago, almost to the month, Brown spoke publicly following an incident on Father’s Day in which a shooter fatally shot an officer and a civilian before being fatally shot by police himself. The shooter was Brown’s son, David BrownJr.

“The past few days have been very troubling and emotional for all of us,” Brown, 55, said in a statement at the time to his police department, according to the Dallas Morning News. “My family has not only lost a son, but a fellow police officer and a private citizen lost their lives at the hands of our son.

“That hurts so deeply I cannot adequately express the sadness I feel inside my heart.”

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Officials said at the time that Brown’s 27-year-old son had shot and killed Jeremy McMillian in nearby Lancaster, Texas, before he shot and killed a responding officer to the scene, according to the Morning News.

Brown Jr., who was mentally ill, was killed at the scene, according to the paper. He was fired on more than a dozen times by police.

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“My deepest sympathy goes out to Officer Craig Shaw’s family, the Lancaster Police Department and to the citizens that he was attempting to protect,” Brown said in his statement following the shooting. “I also want to express my sympathy to the family of Jeremy McMillian. I have reached out to both families. I pray that both families find comfort from their faith, family and friends during this difficult time.”

A Private Person Thrust into the Spotlight

Brown had only been on the job as police chief for a couple of weeks, and his son’s death was an intensely public moment for a man who had been described as valuing his privacy, according to the Morning News.

No longer: Brown has become one of the most visible figures in the country’s ongoing conversation about policing and race – and, in recent days, a voice for his grieving department.

“I’m trying tell them that I care about them when I see them face to face,” he said Monday during a news conference. “It’s a big department. It’s hard to touch everybody at one time. So you won’t see me walking past an officer without grabbing him and hugging him, and shaking their hand and telling how grateful I am for their commitment and sacrifice.”

Brown underscored that police officers are on the front lines of battling society’s problems, saying it’s an extremely difficult job that often goes underappreciated.

“Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve,” Brown said. “Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it. Not enough drug addiction funding, let’s give it to the cops.

“Here in Dallas we got a loose dog problem. Let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, give it to the cops. Seventy percent of the African-American community is being raised by single women. Let’s give it to the cops to solve that as well.”

He said, “Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”

Emphasis on ‘Aggressive Community Policing’

A third-generation Dallasite and the first born-and-raised police chief in decades, a devout Christian and former accounting major who joined the department in 1983 to revive a neighborhood devastated by the crack epidemic, Brown has long been focused on better policing through better community relations.

“It’s my normal to live in a society that had a long history of racial strife,” he said Monday. “We’re in a much better place than we were when I was a young man here, but we have much work to do, particularly in our profession. And leaders in my position need to put their careers on the line to make sure we do things right and not be so worried about keeping their job. That’s how I approach it.”

Brown has said his department’s revised training procedures helped lead to an 80 percent drop in excessive force complaints between 2009 and 2015, according to the Morning News. And he said the procedures helped lead, last year, to a 30 percent drop in assaults on officers and a 40 percent drop in shootings by police.

Brown has faced criticism, including for being inflexible. Police union officials said Brown’s policies slowed down officers, according to the Morning News, while others have said his emphasis on community policing misspends resources.

“In my opinion, how can you argue with aggressive community policing if it has yielded the safest the city has been over 86 years?” Brown told the Dallas Observer in February.

Of “bridging” the gaps between black communities and the police who serve them, he said Monday, “I’ve been black a long time, so it’s not much of a bridge for me.”

And to the protestors themselves, Brown said, “We’re hiring. Get off that protest line and put an application in. And we’ll put you in your neighborhood, and we will help you resolve some of the problems you’re protesting about.”

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