Dallas Plans to Improve Police Building Security

Some Dallas police leaders say the city's plan to improve safety at police buildings doesn't go far enough.

Instead, many police officers say it's better to spend more money now on a security investment that would put more officers back on the streets.

The city of Dallas has already spent nearly $49,900 this summer to retain Gensler, an architecture and consulting firm, and to get the process started on drawing up plans to make police buildings safer.

Gensler is currently planning a major overhaul of the "lobby desk area" at the Headquarters building near downtown.

It will be up to the city council next week, though, to spend $124,000 more in order to expand the security review to also "provide for a building assessment at the seven DPD substations to identify security enhancements that might be made at those facilities."

The Dallas City Manager’s Office says it has $1 million to improve safety at all of the DPD buildings, so they want to get it right.

"The reason we want to bring on our security consultant is to evaluate the process, the community impact and help prioritize where the money should go. All the substations aren't designed the same, and a security design that works for one building may not work for another," said Assistant City Manager Eric Campbell.

The president of the Fraternal Order of Police says for years he's been lobbying for secured parking lots for cops and spending money to keep studying the issue is a waste.

"Is it going to take an officer getting killed at a station, in the parking lot, for something to be done?" FOP President Richard Todd said. "At what point are they going to just say, 'Build the fence around the parking lots already.'"

In June, a man named James Boulware used automatic weapons to shoot at officers at the police headquarters building near downtown.

Dozens of shots were exchanged in the shootout, but incredibly no officers were hurt. Several windows were shattered inside the headquarters and some bullets even lodged into a wall.

There have been several noticeable changes since the summer shootout at police headquarters.

Police added metal detectors and brought in extra officers to work the lobby. DPD Headquarters is the one police building with a secured parking gate that many officers and employees are able to use.

But most patrol officers work at one of the seven substations scattered across the city, and none of those substations has a secured parking lot.

After the summer shootout, several local police unions spoke up, saying their officers felt unsafe showing up to work.

"It gives officers peace of mind. They have to get items out of their personal cars, briefcases and equipment, and it's hard to transition when you're looking over your shoulder constantly because you don't even have a secured parking lot," Todd said. "And that's what's been happening since this summer."

After the shootout, a police department directive took two patrol officers off the streets each shift at each substation. Those officers help maintain safety in the lobby and also patrol the parking lots areas. Todd said that amounts to 48 officers every day, total, who are kept back at the substations to help keep them secure.

"We think Chief [David] Brown made absolutely the right call in adding more officers to the substations to help protect them. He felt – we all felt – that the shooting showed that officers are vulnerable even in the buildings where they work, and he made that commitment to keep them safe," he said.

"But the fact is it's a lot of manpower hours we're devoting to this plan, instead of doing anything real to make a change," Todd added. "We spoke to the mayor and we spoke to the city manager after the shooting and they said that officer safety is a top priority. Well, I have a hard time believing politicians who say it's a top priority and then six months down the road they're doing another survey."

The city manager’s office said it understands many officers feel strongly about adding fencing, but it is considering other options as well.

"Our consultants will evaluate whether adding fencing around every police substation is really more secure than regular patrolling from on-duty officers. What about additional signage? Or more surveillance cameras that can be watched from inside?" Campbell said. "We're considering everything. Nothing is off the table – fencing and secured gates is absolutely being considered."

And, Campbell said it's important make sure a fencing design is appropriate.

"But when it comes to fencing, we must consider the impact on neighborhoods. We don't want to create the impression of an off-limits fortress, where people feel uncomfortable showing up to meet with an officer," Campbell said.

The Dallas City Council will vote on the funding plan next Wednesday.

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