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As Police Officers Leave Dallas, Other North Texas Departments Benefit

dallashabitatphotos via flickr

Dallas police officers have been leaving the force in droves in recent years, most of them going to other North Texas departments. 

They’re heading out mainly because the pay is better elsewhere. While the proposed city budget calls for pay raises, some fear that’s not going to be enough to keep them in Dallas.

In May, Dallas Police Chief David Brown addressed the City Council’s public safety committee. He said he’d already lost 135 officers this fiscal year, which ends in October. He said he’d only been able to hire 75 new officers.

“Our officers are not being retained, and they’re leaving, because in the area salaries are much higher,” he said.                                                                                                                                                                                 

Since that May meeting, the number of officers leaving Dallas PD has grown to well over 200. That’s on top of the 240 officers who left the department last year. And the higher salaries Brown mentions? They range widely. In Dallas, starting salary is $44,000 a year (more for those with college degrees). In Fort Worth, it’s $52,000, and its $60,000 in Frisco.

“Every day we have an officer leaving to go to a suburb,” said Ron Pinkston, who heads the Dallas Police Association, which represents rank and file officers. “It’s hurting the citizens, I mean, the safety of the citizens is being compromised.”                                                                                                                                                        

Dallas is growing, Pinkston said, and the department is losing officers faster than it can replace them – and that hurts morale. He said Dallas officers are being asked to take on more duties and work overtime.

“You can only work 16 hours so many days of the week,” he said. “They need to see their families like every other human in the city, and they haven’t been. So now they’re burning out and now there’s less officers volunteering for the overtime.”

Pinkston said officers are finding better pay, better benefits and better hours elsewhere in North Texas.

“It’s going to take a commitment by city hall to keep these people here, to keep these trained officers here so we’re not wasting tax dollars training young officers only to train them for Fort Worth and Grand Prairie and Mesquite and the suburbs,” he said.

For months, Chief Brown has talked about how low pay is affecting his force. Dallas police brass and rank and file officers are taking their case to City Hall. Following the July 7 shooting attack that killed four Dallas police officers, the issue of officer pay become even more prominent.

As the City Council works on its budget for next year, department employees are watching. One recent budget meeting was packed with first responders wearing T-shirts that said “Pay Dallas Police and Fire.”

Meanwhile, the exodus continues.

In Fort Worth last month, ten police officers donned cowboy hats to be sworn in by Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald. They were new to Fort Worth PD, but not rookies. This was the latest of Fort Worth’s lateral officer class – for cops with at least two years’ experience in big city departments. Of the ten graduates, eight came from Dallas. They brought with them more than 60 years of experience.

Fort Worth has taken on a big chunk of the officers who’ve left Dallas.

Sgt. Dwayne Dalco, who oversees the lateral officer program for the Fort Worth Police Department, said Fort Worth isn’t recruiting Dallas officers in particular – officers move for reasons both personal and professional, and Fort Worth attracts officers from all over. Still, he said the transfers are a real benefit in a growing city with an expanding police force.

“You’re trying to get officers that already have experience, that are ready to hit the ground running, not a prolonged academy,” he said. “So you’re getting more officers on the street faster.”

Officers leaving Dallas can earn as much as $15,000 more a year after making the switch to Fort Worth. And Dalco said the city is known for actively supporting its police force. It’s apparent in a half-cent sales tax that pays for police, he said, and in the sprawling new public safety headquarters and training facilities.

“People see that and they hear about that and they want to be part of something great,” Dalco said.

Back in Dallas, there is a lot of support on the city council to increase salaries now. One proposal would boost pay for most of the police force. But it’s unclear whether it’ll be enough to keep officers from finding jobs elsewhere.

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.