Hundreds of police officers and firefighters filed into Dallas City Hall Wednesday morning, many clearly showing their mission on the white T-shirts they wore that simply said, “PAY DALLAS POLICE AND FIRE.”
Following leaders from the city’s various police associations and unions, the group filled the small city council chambers on the sixth floor to standing room only, and the mass of demonstrators who couldn’t fit then packed the overflow auditorium down the hall to, again, just standing room.
The group was there to stand united in, what many were calling, a silent demonstration during the Dallas City Council meeting.
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"Our actions were unprecedented," said Sgt. Sheldon Smith, with the Black Police Association. "In the two contracts prior to this we didn't have to do that. We didn't agree on everything, but we reached a point where we could get things done."
It was silent because there was no action item on the agenda to discuss officer pay, council didn’t even plan to discuss it during the Wednesday meeting, and besides a few casual comments from speakers and members about the mass of white shirts it didn’t come up during regular session.
Dallas Firefighters Association President Jim McDade said the intention of the demonstration was to show council members the solidarity of their members on the issue, and how serious of an issue it is.
Over the past few months there’s been much discussion in the city about the large number of officers leaving the Dallas Police Department to go to higher paying positions in the suburbs.
The city has long been criticized over what it pays its officers.
Dallas officers start out up to $20,000 less than the same officers in some suburban departments.
"We're not going to be able to pay them what they're really, truly, worth. There's a big public service component to what they do. We just need to get more in line with the market so that we are competitive, especially when we are recruiting and retaining those rookie and young officers," said Councilman Philip Kingston.
The Department has seen a surge in applications since the July 7 ambush on police and encouragement by Police Chief David Brown that those who want change should apply and make a difference.
Still though, pay has remained an ongoing battle as the city council works to complete their budget.
Outgoing Dallas City Manager A.C. Gonzalez issued a statement Friday saying that pay raises for officers were coming, offering to do better on staffing and equipment as well, though he offered few specifics.
Dallas Police Association President Ron Pinkston said that statement was part of the reason they chose to demonstrate Wednesday.
“I think the city manager was very insincere when he put out his statement,” said Pinkston. “We want to make sure no one’s left behind; all officers are taken care of.”
One of the main concerns the group cited was that only newer officers would see a pay bump while the older, more experienced members of the force would be left in the same situation they’re in now.
While it wasn’t discussed in session, several council members did speak to members of the group, pledging their support.
Members believe they have the support of 5-6 city council members, and said they need to get about three more on-board with their cause.
“The budget process is rolling right now, it’s almost to conclusion, and we have to make a statement now that: hey, we’re united, you need to fix it,” said Pinkston.
Councilman Lee Kleinman said he is not ready to pledge support to a major increase without first talking with his constituents. Those conversations will be held over the next several weeks during budget town halls throughout Dallas.
"Public safety, which I know is a hot topic now, is 64, 65 percent of our total budget. That only leaves 35 percent of our budget for everything else," Kleinman said. "When we go to our budget town hall meetings we'll ask them what they want us to do. If they really want us to increase the police and fire budget at the expense of other budget items we'll do it."
City Manager A.C. Gonzales will hold a press conference Friday afternoon to discuss the 2017 budget. All seven police associations are expected to attend and offer an immediate response.
Police and firefighters also made plans to show up again next week and continue making the silent statement to the council.