Dallas Police Recruitment Call Answered, But Pay Issues Are A Concern

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Police keep watch during a protest Friday in Dallas.

It's been almost a month since Micah Xavier Johnson murdered five Dallas police officers and wounded nine others following a protest march. In the days that followed, the city's white mayor, Mike Rawlings, and black police chief, David Brown, appeared together openly grieving, offering words of consolation and praising the bravery of their officers.

In one memorable moment, Brown offered an invitation to the city's young people: "We're hiring, we're hiring. Get off that protest line and put an application in. And we'll put you in your neighborhood, we will help you resolve some of the problems you're protesting about."

Since then the Dallas Police Department has been getting an average of 40 applications every day.

Ironically, in the year before the shooting, Brown had been subject to pointed criticism that he was not a strong enough advocate for the department.

Pay is the main issue, and Dallas police officers have been abandoning ship in stunning numbers. Since Oct. 1, 2015, some 219 officers — out of a force of 3,400 — have left, dozens of them for better-paying North Texas cities. Fort Worth alone happily snagged eight veterans who got as much as a $15,000 raise.

Starting salary for a police officer in Dallas is $45,000 (or $48,000 with a four-year college degree). Compare that to Fort Worth, with a starting salary of $52,000, and Frisco, which pays $60,000.

The Dallas Police Department declined NPR's interview requests, but Dan Pinkston, president of the Dallas Police Association, says the city has become a de facto law enforcement farm team.

"It takes about four to five years for a young officer to really become knowledgeable where he can go out and do that job on his own. Those are the guys that are out there answering the day-to-day calls," Pinkston says.

And, he adds, those are the officers who are leaving. In this growing city, the police department has taken a back seat to new schools, repaved roads and the mind-boggling cost of indigent care at the county hospital.

But the ambush has changed those priorities. Still, like many American cities, there remain real tensions between the police department and Dallas' minority community.

"We're not saying that blues lives don't matter or white lives don't matter," says the Rev. Gerald Britt. "What we're saying is, we need you to look at what's happening to us. There's an element within law enforcement which don't care about our lives."

Britt served as pastor of New Mount Moriah Baptist Church in South Dallas for two decades. Now he's vice president at City Square, a research and advocacy organization for Dallas' poor.

He says improving the starting salary for police officers is the first thing that needs to happen.

"That is another way you hold people accountable, you pay them what the job is worth," he says.

Raise negotiations began in earnest Wednesday, as the leaders of the Dallas fire and police unions made their case before the mayor and city council. A raise is almost certainly in the offing. The question is whether it will be for new officers only or the department as a whole.

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An earlier version of this story online incorrectly stated the number of people injured in the Dallas shootings. Nine people, not 14, were injured.