Communities rely on police departments to “protect and serve” and, in turn, police rely on community support and cooperation, but the relationship is not always harmonious. Law enforcement officers are subject to the court of law, but also to the court of public opinion. In 2020, the death of George Floyd galvanized much of America to move the needle toward greater police reforms once viewed as radical.
Faced with the challenge to adopt a new mindset of civilian engagement often at odds with existing practices and procedures, Denton Police Department found a strong advocate in the 2018 hiring of Police Chief Frank Dixon. The RR Democratic Club welcomed Chief Dixon to its monthly meeting for an open discussion on his current strategies and future plans for a more forward thinking and community-engaged police department.
As his first act, Chief Dixon critically reviewed existing policies and procedures. Dismayed, he “threw out everything” and with department members, rewrote policies based on case law and best practices reflecting community values. Included, the “8 Can’t Wait” procedural rules and Active Bystander of Law Enforcement (ABLE) duty to intervene policies, ensuring that if one officer engages in misconduct, other officers will step in and stop it.
Transparency and accountability are cornerstones to a community’s trust in the police. A perceived egregious act of misconduct by a single officer in one city not only damages police-community relationships locally, it can gain nationwide attention and reduce trust of the police generally. Now, when a critical incident occurs, information is released as soon as possible. The public has access to the DPD website detailing policies on use of force, community complaints, and other issues.
Recognizing the need to present policing as a profession, Chief Dixon instituted career growth opportunities and professional development training and advocated for hiring more college-educated officers. Additionally, he stepped up efforts to increase the overall internal diversity of the PD by race and other demographics.
Acknowledging Denton’s richly diverse community, Chief Dixon implemented training on diversity, implicit bias, and cultural competency, helping officers to communicate effectively with and understand the cultural norms of these different groups.
Rethinking how police respond to homelessness and mental health crises, Chief Dixon established a full-time Homeless Outreach Team and Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT). Plain clothes officers are partnered with social workers or clinical therapists who respond to crisis calls. Also, potentially violent situations are defused by relying upon emergency psychiatric detentions, resource referrals, and community follow-ups.
Other program initiatives are Peer Support Team (support group for fellow officers), Take Me Home (residents register loved ones who have difficulty communicating with first responders), and Ask for Angela (bar patrons can discreetly ask for help if feeling unsafe or in danger of assault).
Chief Frank Dixon is a real game changer for the City of Denton and instrumental in healing fractured relationships between the police and the people they serve. “We’re not completely there yet. This will be an ongoing concerted effort.”