04/25/2007

Dallas police association polls confidence in chief

Dallas: Chief hears complaints on Tasers, chase policy, car fleet

By HOLLY YAN
The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS, Tex.— Dallas' largest police association decided Tuesday to poll its members for a possible no-confidence vote against Police Chief David Kunkle.

"A lot of officers are frustrated," said Senior Cpl. Glenn White, president of the Dallas Police Association. "The majority of patrol officers feel like they're constantly being baby-sat."

Chief Kunkle met with dozens of DPA members for about 2 1/2 hours Tuesday and heard complaints on a variety of issues, including the police chase policy, restrictions on using Taser stun guns and the quality and availability of police cars.

Cpl. White said the chief made a "tremendous amount of progress" by meeting with the group and discussing the complaints at length. But members of the DPA voted to send cards to the roughly 2,400 officers in the group to determine whether they have confidence in Chief Kunkle.

"I'm disappointed," the chief said. "I think there have been noticeable improvements in the department and in the working conditions and benefits for officers. I don't quite understand it."

Cpl. White said the results of the vote could be ready within three weeks. Neither he nor Chief Kunkle said they know what would happen if DPA members give the chief a vote of no confidence.

Almost a year after the chase policy started, it still seems to be the greatest point of contention.

"Every day it seems we're getting more and more handcuffed," Cpl. White said.

The current pursuit policy stipulates that police may chase only people suspected of violent felonies. The policy generated wide opposition from officers who said many criminals could elude apprehension.

But after watching videos of police chases with the chief two weeks ago, representatives from some of the other police associations said they supported the chief.

Cpl. White said the videos were not representative of most police chases.

"They used examples that were out of the ordinary, where everything goes horribly wrong," he said. "I'd venture to say there are more that go perfectly."

Chief Kunkle said he's sticking by his policy because it reduces the risk of dangerous crashes.

"I think our fundamental role is to make the community safer and not more dangerous," he said.

Chief Kunkle said he also heard opposition to his Taser policy. The chief prohibited the lateral vascular neck restraint in 2004 and asked the city to buy Tasers to help control suspects. But the Tasers may be used only when a person is combative with an officer, not when a person is passively resisting an officer or running away.

"They disagreed with restriction of the use of the Taser," Chief Kunkle said. "I understand their positions, but essentially there's nothing I could tell them to satisfy them on those issues. I have to serve a variety of constituents" – not just officers, but also the rest of the community, he said.

Cpl. White said another major problem at the department is the lack of usable patrol cars. He said some officers wait up to 1 ? hours for a working vehicle when they could be out on patrol.

The city manager's office plans to expand the fleet by 92 patrol cars, including some Dodge Chargers, but the Chargers have yet to be integrated.

Senior Cpl. James Bristo, second vice president of the Dallas Fraternal Order of Police, said his group is also polling its members.

The order is sending questionnaires to its nearly 700 members seeking their views on the department's morale, policy changes and the chief's performance.

Cpl. Bristo said order members are also concerned about issues such as the chase policy and the loss of the neck restraint. But the group is far from seeking a no-confidence vote, he said.

"We're not out to attack the chief," he said. "There are some things that he's done that we appreciate; we're carrying AR-15 [rifles]. But then we're concerned about some things as well."

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