Dallas police were more aware than usual of their on-the-job risks even before five officers were slain while patrolling a Black Lives Matter protest on July 7. They have been since at least last June, when a gunman sprayed Dallas police headquarters with bullets and planted several bombs around the building.
“We think that our safe haven is the workplace… and that thought process is now out the window,” Dallas police chief David Brown said of the earlier incident, in a February interview with the Dallas Observer, a local weekly. “The workplace is not a safe haven, and it was naive for us to think that it ever was.”
To be sure, danger is part of a cop’s job description. But what Brown and his department were grappling with then, and are again now, is not run-of-the-mill violence generated by criminals and encountered during their regular course of business. The attacks last June and last night were deliberate actions directed straight at them. Most police officers are not used to that.
“The idea that snipers might attack us, the idea that someone might plant a bomb to blow us up…” Brown said in the aftermath of the June shooting, ”that’s something that American law enforcement hadn’t had to deal with in years past that I think in the future we will have to deal with.” He made the remark in an interview with the Dallas Morning News some months after the June 2015 attack on police headquarters. An audio clip from the interview was posted as part of the paper’s June 11 special report marking the one-year anniversary of the incident.
Except for the shooter, no one was killed in the June ambush. Now in a single incident, Dallas has lost five officers. That’s as many as the department had lost in the previous 12 years, based on figures Brown cited in the February interview with the Observer. (In the latest incident, four of the officers killed were members of the Dallas PD; the fifth worked for Dallas Area Rapid Transit, which is a separate agency. )
Like the gunman who shot up the police headquarters, the sole intent of the suspect in the latest attack appears to have been to kill cops. That’s what he told police negotiators before he was killed by a police bomb detonated by a robot early Friday. Indeed, despite the thick crowd, the gunman hit only two civilians. All the other victims were uniformed officers.
On Friday, Brown seemed frustrated. “We don’t feel much support most days,” he said.
“Let’s not make today most days. Please, we need your support to be able to protect you.”
The June attack had already spurred a debate of how the city’s protectors could better protect themselves. The police department started requiring anyone entering its offices to go through a metal detector, and there were plans to install bulletproof glass. In December, the city hired a consultant to assess safety at police installations and recommend ways to improve it. That’s the kind of expert advice that the police department is used to doling out to others, the Observer pointed out.
Neither the police department nor the city immediately responded to requests for comment on the status of those efforts.
At the end of the day, Brown said back in February, extra security will only do so much to help, because the only way to stop an attack against police is for police to engage the attacker.
“It messes with your psyche that when you come to work you need to have your head on a swivel walking between your car and the building,” Brown said in February.
That’s a workplace hazard that Dallas police won’t be forgetting anytime soon.