And in the end, it was the glut of attention that helped prompt his retirement.
The chief earned widespread praise after leading his department through a massacre of five officers on July 7, including four from his own force.
But all that praise made him uncomfortable, Brown said.
"I started hearing whispers after July 7 of me being untouchable, of me being powerful now because I had national notoriety. And it felt self-serving," he said. "The idea of being untouchable has not felt right to me."
So Brown will leave the department on October 22.
"It's time to go," he said Thursday, wearing a dark suit rather than his usual four-star uniform. "That's a long time to be somewhere. More importantly, I came here to serve in any capacity that the department assigned me to. I feel like I've accomplished the goal of serving after 33 years."
Here are several key moments that defined Brown's career:
His tragic first month as police chief
Just weeks after Brown was sworn in as chief, a gunman killed an officer from the nearby Lancaster Police Department and a young father on Father's Day 2010.
The cop killer turned out to be the police chief's son, David Brown Jr.
Lancaster police responded to the scene and fatally shot the younger Brown more than a dozen times. An autopsy revealed he had PCP, marijuana and alcohol in his system.
The newly minted Dallas police chief was at a loss for words.
"My family has not only lost a son, but a fellow police officer and a private citizen lost their lives at the hands of our son," Brown told his department, according to The Dallas Morning News. "That hurts so deeply I cannot adequately express the sadness I feel inside my heart."
Despite speculation about whether he would resign, Brown moved forward, charting a new course for the Dallas Police Department
The deaths of 5 officers in 1 night
July 7 marked not just the darkest day in Dallas police history but also the deadliest attack on US law enforcement since 9/11
A peaceful protest calling for police accountability devolved into violence after a sniper gunned down five officers -- four from the Dallas Police Department and one from Dallas Area Rapid Transit.
"We're hurting. Our profession is hurting. Dallas officers are hurting. We are heartbroken," Brown said. "There are no words to describe the atrocity that occurred to our city. All I know is this: This must stop, this divisiveness between our police and our citizens.
That night, Brown also made a controversial and unprecedented decision to use a bomb to kill the gunman.
He later defended the move, saying any other attempt to take out the sniper would have put his officers in the man's line of fire.
"I would make the decision again," Brown said in July. "You have to trust the people whose lives are at stake. I appreciate critics, but they're not on the ground, and their lives are not at risk."
Call for Black Lives Matter protesters to join the police
Brown was in an unusual position of leading a grieving department as a black police chief while protesters nationwide demanded police accountability, chanting "black lives matter."
But he said being black and a police officer wasn't a dilemma.
"I've been black a long time," Brown said. "So it's not so much of a bridge for me as it is everyday living."
He also offered advice for the protesters.
"Become a part of the solution. Serve your communities. Don't be a part of the problem," he said. "We're hiring. Get off that protest line and put an application in. And we'll put you in your neighborhood, and we'll help you resolve some of the problems you're protesting about."
His call apparently worked. Within weeks, Dallas police saw a 344% surge in applications
. At least 467 people applied from July 8 to July 20, compared with 136 from June 8 to June 20.
A tough childhood neighborhood started it all
The rough south Dallas neighborhood where Brown grew up seemed an unlikely place to produce a police chief. There, cops were often loathed, a deep undertone of tension and distrust permeating the streets.
The crack cocaine epidemic changed everything for Brown.
"I became a Dallas cop in 1983 because of the crack cocaine epidemic's impact on my neighborhood in Oak Cliff. I wanted to be part of the solution," he said. "Since that time I have taken great pride in knowing that we have always been part of the solution."
Brown has consistently spoken of his love for the city.
"They took an inner city kid like me with flaws and made me their police chief. That's an extraordinary city. And have supported me through very difficult challenges," he said.
He also acknowledges how it's a challenging time for officers nationwide. But he doesn't regret his career choice.
"I love serving. It's part of my character, it's part of who I am," he said. "Of all the crap we've got to take as police officers, the satisfaction you get when serving? Much more gratifying. Much more gratifying. And it's like that for a lot of police officers in this country."