Dallas Police Chief Resigns After Criticism of Handling of Protests and Violent Crime

Protesters clash with police officers May 29 in Dallas. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

DALLAS (CN) — Dallas’ first Black female police chief resigned Tuesday after facing intense criticism of her handling of this summer’s George Floyd protests and a failure to halt a spike in violent crimes.

Chief U. Renee Hall, 49, told Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax she is “extraordinarily grateful for the opportunity” to serve the Texas city’s residents.

“It has not been easy,” Hall wrote in a one-page letter. “These past three years have been saturated with a series of unimaginable events that individually and collectively have never happened in the City of Dallas. I am proud that this department has not only coped with an unthinkable series of events, but we have also managed to implement critical reforms that were clearly needed for the Dallas Police Department to meet out 21st Century Policing goals.”

Hall said she will stay on the force until November 10. The chief says she will “remain committed to my true calling which is law enforcement” as her next career step.

Hall was hired as chief in 2017, replacing David Brown — the current Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. She previously served 18 years at the Detroit Police Department, rising to the rank of deputy chief.

Hall’s resignation comes one month after the Dallas City Council criticized her department’s use of less-lethal ammunition on residents protesting the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on May 25. At the city’s Public Safety Committee meeting on Aug. 18, councilmember Omar Narvaez angrily cited “people up on that bridge, in my district, getting tear-gassed after I was told they were not and having pepper bullets shot at them.”

Hall had steadfastly denied tear gas was used at a protest on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge on the night of June 1. Hall admitted at the meeting that tear gas was used in the department’s final report.

“We are so blessed somebody did not jump off that bridge or fall off — it’s probably a 100-foot drop — and fall to their death,” he said at the time. “It is unacceptable the things that happened and I am outraged by it. Chief Hall, I have lost the trust.”

Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Adam McGough agreed, saying “it is clear to me we had a failure of leadership” in the police department.

Councilmember Cara Mendelsohn said she also saw “a lack of leadership” and deemed Hall’s handling as “an embarrassment to our city.”

Hall agreed in June to stop firing tear gas and less-lethal ammunition at the nightly protests after two injured protesters sued her and the city in federal court. Plaintiff Vincent Doyle said he was shot in the face by a rubber bullet on May 30, requiring surgery for a metal plate due to facial fractures. Plaintiff Tasia Williams claims she was shot in the leg by a rubber bullet and was left bloodied on the bridge.

In a separate incident, protester Brandon Saenz was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet at a May 30 protest in downtown. Images of Saenz lying on a sidewalk went viral, showing fellow protesters frantically trying to stop the blood pouring out of his head. Saenz has yet to sue the city or Hall, but his attorneys have demanded disclosure of the identity of the officer who blinded him.

In response to protester demands, Hall issued a new general order on June 5 requiring her officers to stop fellow officers from engaging in excessive force. She said at the time the change is intended “to create a culture where what happened to Mr. Floyd does not happen again.”

Councilmembers further grilled Hall on the city’s elevated violent crime rate for 2020. There were 209 murders in Dallas in 2019, a 30% increase over 2018. There have already been 139 murders so far in 2020 — almost identical to the murder rate of 2019. As of Aug, 24, there have been 5,015 assaults recorded in Dallas, which is more than the 4,078 recorded during the same period in 2019.

Broadnax said after Hall’s announcement that he asked her to stay on the job until the end of the year, which she agreed to.

“Chief Hall has provided consistent, passionate, resilient and robust leadership to our city,” he said in a statement. “She has implemented a host of reforms that will assist our department as we move forward.”

Mayor Eric Johnson — a Democrat — acknowledged Hall’s “burden and the distinction of being the first woman — a woman of color no less” to serve as police chief.

“That was not lost on me,” he said in a statement. “I wish her the best in her career and in her life moving forward. I believe the Dallas City Council now must continue to support public safety in our communities. We cannot exclusively rely on law enforcement to reduce crime, but we absolutely need new policing strategies and fresh eyes that can help us reverse the unfortunate and unacceptable increases in violent crime in our city.”

Dallas joins the nearby cities of Fort Worth and Arlington in searching for a new police chief after resignations and retirements in 2020. Police chiefs in major cities across the country have stepped down in the wake of their handling of the protests, including police chiefs in Portland, Seattle and Atlanta.

Hall was hired one year after a sniper targeted Dallas police officers at a peaceful protest against police brutality downtown, killing five cops. The first major crisis of her tenure was the killing of unarmed Black resident Botham Jean by off-duty Dallas cop Amber Guyger, who mistook his apartment for her own and thought he was an intruder. A Dallas County jury later convicted Guyger of murder and sentenced her to 10 years in state prison. It remains one of the rare convictions of a white police officer in the killing of an unarmed Black person in the country.

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