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'The Communication Was Terrible': Dallas Police Take A Critical Look At Protest Response

A photo of a group of people, holding protest signs, walking onto a highway at nightfall.
Hady Mawajdeh
/
KERA
Protesters entering the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in Dallas on June 1, 2020..

The Dallas Police Department recently released a lengthy report critical of its own performance in the first days of civil unrest following the death of George Floyd.

The “After-Action Report'' looked at what happened on each day of protest May 29 to June 1, examining the police response and laying out what the department is looking to improve. 

“It’s an honest assessment and review of errors, miscalculations and shortcomings uncovered in this exhaustive review,” reads Dallas Police Chief U. Reneé Hall’s statement at the beginning of the report.

DPD received about 50 use-of-force complaints, which are being reviewed in conjunction with the city's Community Police Oversight Board. In the report, DPD acknowledges how they struggled with operational plans, communication and keeping a unified command structure. 

Hall will present the report’s findings to the City Council’s Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.

How Police Responded, And The Problems They Found

On the fourth day of protests, KERA reported hundreds of people from around North Texas marched peacefully onto the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, but found themselves surrounded by police, who ordered them to lie down and shot smoke bombs at them, even after many were kneeling.

"Don't shoot!" many protesters shouted. 

Chief Hall told the City Council that police didn’t use tear gas, but the report refutes that.

According to the report, Hall told her event commander not to use tear gas, but her order came after it had already been used.

“It was not until approximately four days later that it was determined that C.S. gas was used on the bridge,” the report says, using a technical name for tear gas. “Each deployment of C.S. gas was made prior to directions being issued from the Chief.”

The report quotes one unnamed sergeant as saying, “The communication was terrible. During detail, officers were given clear communication about what was expected. When the protesters moved and went on the bridge, the communication went out the window.” 

The review found the police had communication breakdowns on other nights, too, due to technological issues and an unclear chain of command.

“Radio communication was difficult as officers talked over each other, commands and directions came from multiple sources, and requests for direction were either unheard or unintelligible,” the report states.

Officers and supervisors said they weren't always sure when to take enforcement action because those rules weren't specified until the third day, when Hall took a zero tolerance stance on violence, property destruction and civil disobedience.

Police also ran into issues with their body cameras, the report says. Their tactical vests sometimes covered the lenses, they didn’t attach the cameras properly to the tactical vests or they ran out of battery after many hours of use. 

The department will get 500 new cameras as part of a contract the City Council approved in April, and they’ll also get camera mounts for tactical vests, according to the report.

What Will DPD Do To Address Concerns?

The police department has already modified its policies when it comes to using “less-than-lethal” methods.

The department placed restrictions on shooting certain projectiles into crowds, and officers can only use tear gas for crowd control if the chief or a designee orders it. Tear gas won’t be allowed to direct crowd movements.

The department also put a duty to intervene in the department’s rulebook, which means officers are obligated to step in if they see a colleague using unnecessary force.

The department plans to form a Use of Force Review Committee, which will include the director of the city’s Office of Community Police Oversight.

The report says those discussions shouldn’t focus on getting rid of less-than-lethal weapons, but rather “include a comprehensive review with clear and articulate language for deployments.”

Police will also look into investing in another type of crowd-control technology, called long-range acoustic devices. LRADs are super-powered speakers that “allow officers to communicate with aggressive individuals from a safe distance,” and prevent the need to escalate the use of force, according to the report.

However, the devices, also known as “sound cannons,” are controversial. Besides communication, police have used them to disperse crowds with debilitatingly loud noises that the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association says can permanently damage hearing

The Dallas police report only lists communication as its intention for investing in these devices.

Dallas City Council Responds

During a special meeting on Tuesday, council members were critical of the time it took the DPD to produce the 80-plus page report and questioned whether Hall thought she was being transparent.

Dallas City Council Member Adam Bazaldua called the report underwhelming and said it included more about attacks made toward police and less about force used against protesters.

“This report is something that paints a very biased picture to the public that is a picture that is a narrative that is absolutely disingenuous and not fair,” he said. 

Bazaldua also said the report was issued too late. He called it troublesome that some incidents in which police used force were not included. 

Police Chief Renee Hall said law enforcement agencies typically take much longer to produce so-called after-action reports.

“The Dallas Police Department under my leadership is saying it is far time, far too long gone that we have not exposed ourselves,” Hall said. “Transparency breeds corrective behavior and so we are being transparent with the fact we don’t do everything right.” 

Council members were also critical of Hall who originally said that police didn’t use tear gas on protestors. They said it took too long to correct misinformation given to the public.

Read The Full Report Below

Got a tip? Email Miranda Suarez at msuarez@kera.org. You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.

Alejandra Martinez is a Report For America corps member and writes about the economic impact of COVID-19 on marginalized communities for KERA News. Email Alejandra at amartinez@kera.org. You can follow Alejandra on Twitter @_martinez_ale.

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