12:11 - Source: CNN
Chief David Brown Interview Part 1

Story highlights

Dallas police chief says his department's starting salary is lowest in the area

That means higher turnover as officers are lured to work in higher-paying departments

CNN —  

The shooting deaths of five Dallas police officers shocked, saddened and provided a tragic reminder that policing can be dangerous and sometimes deadly. But higher risk doesn’t always come with a higher salary, especially in Dallas.

“These officers risk their lives for $40,000 a year […] And this is not sustainable,” Dallas Police Chief David Brown said July 10 on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The starting pay for a trained officer actually is $44,659 per year. Brown said that’s the lowest in the Dallas area.

“They’ve been leaving to go to other adjoining law enforcement agencies because of that. So it’s not just resignation – it’s officers not feeling appreciated,” Brown said Monday.

Daniel Young is one of many police officers who have been lured away from the Dallas Police Department for a higher salary. Young, 33, patrolled the streets of Dallas for six years before leaving in May to join the nearby Rowlett Police Department, where the starting salary is $50,471. He said a high turnover rate goes beyond just morale, but can potentially have an impact on public safety.

“You’re losing that experience to a younger guy, now that younger guy has to make a decision on the street that a six- or eight-year veteran has to make,” said Young.

The end result? “I won’t say bad decisions, but hasty decisions,” he said.

To make up the pay gap, Young said many officers work second jobs, typically in private security. He said he personally knew more than 20 of his former Dallas Police colleagues who have resigned in the past 18 months to join other police departments.

It’s not just Rowlett that pays better. After completing police academy training, an officer in Fort Worth will earn $52,176, $56,754 in McKinney, $59,501 in Arlington, and in Plano officers start at $63,757.

That discrepancy is not lost on Brown.

“Our officers are committed to this profession, but they want to take care of their families financially as well. And we’re working to correct that. I have every indication I get from the mayor, the city manager, the city council, they want to correct that as soon as possible. I trust that they will,” he said.

In a May 31 Dallas Morning News Op-Ed, Ron Pinkston, the president of the Dallas Police Association, wrote that the city had lost 124 officers to neighboring departments this year.

“There is no path to better public safety that avoids addressing compensation issues. Compensation concerns are causing police recruits and young officers to go elsewhere. The compensation issue is also causing veteran officers with valuable expertise to retire in alarming numbers,” he wrote.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings’ office said that boosting officer pay was an issue the city was working on before the July 7 shooting, but details won’t be finalized until September.

University of Texas Professor William Spelman, a former researcher at the Police Executive Research Forum, said “there almost has to be” political will and a public appetite to boost salaries in light of the deadly ambush.

He said he thinks low pay is terrible for the force’s morale, and high turnover doesn’t help either.

“If you talk to anybody inside the law enforcement world I think they’ll almost all tell you there’s almost no substitute for knowing the guy who has got your back,” he said.

Spelman said big city police departments have more trouble being competitive because their forces are much larger.

“A small increase in the salary of police officers is going to have a huge financial impact on the city as a whole,” he said.

Spelman suggested Dallas should look at boosting salaries incrementally over three or four years to better compete with nearby departments, but said it’s not realistic to compete with the highest-paying cities.