As I write this, it is the third anniversary of the ambush attack on police in downtown Dallas, in 2016. As a by-product of the incident, I no longer work at the job I had when the attack occurred. While I have recounted parts of the story for others, I haven’t really done so for the glib crew. It’s not my intent to walk you through the attack itself—three years has blurred a lot of what happened. Rather, I want to talk about the part I played in this mess and the fallout from it in my life. If you’d like a good report on the attack, this link offers the most comprehensive look at the attack of any I’ve seen.
At the time of the attack, I was the senior Police Communications Supervisor for the Dallas County Community College District. I was at just about 11 years on the job, with eight of them as supervisor. To help paint this picture, let me give a brief explanation as to how DCCCD operated at the time. There are seven ‘main’ campuses, along with satellite campuses, and various other locations that handle administrative, technical, and/or other educational matters. At the time, the seven main campuses all had their own police departments—seven different chiefs, seven different ways of doing things. The dispatch center is located at a campus in the northwest section of the county, and, it was at that campus’ police department that I was employed, followed chain-of-command, etc. However, the functions of the dispatch center were considered ‘District’ functions: all campuses paid to fund us, and, we dispatched for all seven PDs. It was a pretty messy situation, and I will discuss some of it later on. (If you have questions on anything I don’t cover, feel free to ask me in the comments.)
Being the supervisor, I rarely did the normal dispatching functions. I was mostly a baby-sitter, and did more to ensure things ran as smoothly as could be expected. I had plenty of fires that I battled in regards to employees, along with trying to increase professionalism in a place where it was often opposed. Due to the design limitations of the center, my helping out usually came in the form of call-taking. If I had to be on the radio, it was usually on a portable radio (walkie-talkie). Most of the time, when I helped out, it was because we were short-handed.
On Thursday, July 7th, 2016, we were short-handed.
That day, it was just me and one other dispatcher, V (not Xer real name). V was, and, is, a very capable dispatcher, with no previous dispatching experience prior to her being hired at the college. What V does have is a Masters’ in Criminal Justice, and a really good work ethic. Xe would be handling dispatching duties that evening, while I took phone calls. For some reason, Thursdays were always the busiest day of the week for us. It was an odd situation, and I came to dread Thursdays, even though I wasn’t usually doing much of the heavy lifting in the center. I don’t recall it being a particularly bad shift, prior to the notification we received from an officer at El Centro (the campus located in downtown Dallas) about yet another protest scheduled to take place that evening.
There had been other protests in the area of the college, none of which had been an issue. So, hearing that there was a scheduled protest that evening didn’t really mean anything for us, presuming everyone behaved as they had previously. V and I just presumed that we would hear various radio chatter from the El Centro officers, while all the other campuses went about their normal activities. We were very wrong.
What I remember is that, not long into the protest march, we heard an officer report that they heard something that sounded like gunfire, and that Dallas PD was reporting shots fired in the area. Once we heard that, I think we both sort of tightened up internally, and prepared for…well, something to happen. This was just after 9:00 p.m., as I recall, and it continued on until well after midnight, as it went from the street into the actual campus building. We ended up being tasked with helping the El Centro officers communicate with the Dallas PD units that responded by taking phone calls and relaying information over the radio. While there are state-based emergency radio channels that any agency can use for coordinating with other agencies, I can tell you that Dallas Police does not believe in sharing their radio frequencies with other agencies. The 800-pound gorilla does what it wants, regardless of the other animals.
Since I was handling telephones, I was dealing with incoming calls, as well as having to make calls to various college personnel to help the responding SWAT units negotiate the building safely. I also took a call from people in a classroom on the campus that were essentially trapped inside as the madman made his way into the building, trading gunfire with various officers. We told the El Centro Chief about the people in the classroom, but, in the chaos, the officers must have forgotten about them. It took about another 1.5-2 hours before I got another call from the group, asking if it was safe for them to leave. At that point, the decision had been made for Dallas PD to use explosives (honest-to-God C4), and they needed the building cleared. The class would finally be getting out, just in the nick of time.
During this time, we had a shift change in Dispatch. This happens at 10:00, and V’s relief, J, walked in on what was probably one of the most chaotic shifts xe’s ever had. J had previous experience dispatching private security, so xe hadn’t experienced anything of this magnitude before. I can say, proudly, that they were absolutely fantastic in their performances, and I was able to handle my work without having to constantly monitor them.
I should point out here that the most significant thing about working the phones that night was how busy it wasn’t. In a situation like this, I would normally expect tons of calls by the media, as well as calls from frantic parents out of their minds over their children. This would even include high school-age teens who were taking classes on campus. In this situation, though, it was late enough in the evening that most classes had begun to let out. Add to this the fact that it was mid-Summer, which isn’t exactly the busiest time of year for attending college. As for media calls, most local news was already on scene when the shooting began. They all witnessed what was happening in real time, and didn’t need to call us to try to get a statement. This facet of the incident has always felt surreal to me, since things were, in all honesty, easier on us than it should have been. Far be it from me, though, to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth-any mercy is appreciated a situation such as that night.
The standoff ended just before 1:30 a.m. I was ordered to stay until 2:00, when the other supervisor came in to relieve me. I left knowing that the shooter was dead, and that the team of officers from the various agencies was attempting to secure the area to ensure there were no other threats. I also left knowing that things were going to be very different in the aftermath. The district hadn’t lost any officers in the shooting, although a couple had sustained minor/medium injuries. Truth be told, I had officers at other campuses that had been wounded more severely in a stabbing attack a few years earlier. However, I wasn’t ready for what wouldn’t happen after this.
Two weeks after the shooting, my Chief popped in to the room with an email in hand. It turns out that the Chief from El Centro was mad as hell because no incident report had been written, and my Chief wanted to know if I could explain why. When I looked at the call sheet of the incident in our CAD (computer aided dispatching), there was no report number attached to it. The process was (and always will be) that an officer, who will be writing a report, asks Dispatch to issue them a report number. The CAD has a button on each call sheet to do just that, and the dispatcher clicks it, and a few other tick boxes, and voila’! In this case, though, no officer had ever requested a report number. Dispatchers don’t determine who’s writing a report—we respond to a request from an officer. If no one asks for it…well, it’s not on Dispatch’s shoulders to move this along. However, the El Centro Chief, who was supposed to have had several years command experience at other agencies outside of Texas, apparently didn’t understand this. The FBI wanted El Centro’s report, and he was in the spotlight with a certain appendage in his hand. And, by God, Dispatch needed to answer for this! It didn’t help matters that my Chief didn’t understand this protocol, and that I had to explain it to him first. This resulted in my having to whip up an email explaining the steps to two Chiefs, who should have known about them before this point.
Did I mention that V was on duty, and heard when our Chief brought this issue up? Did I also mention that, other than a verbal pat on the back from my Captain (my direct supervisor) at the end of the shooting, there had been not one bit of positive feed-back about our efforts that night? Yeah, it was a shit situation. One of the two dispatch superstars from that night heard the only feedback from outside our office, and it was a Police Chief complaining about something we didn’t do. It was also at this point that I realized that my boss hadn’t said anything to me in regards to recognizing the ladies for their work. This was odd, because every other time an award was brought up for a dispatcher, it started with an order from the Captain to put it together. When I realized that he hadn’t said anything to me about it, I questioned him, and got a, “Well, go ahead and make something up.” His blasé attitude was shocking, considering that, for the last eight years, I had to run everything past him, and he had always initiated any awards.
On top of this, things began to seriously change on a larger scale. The District had previously planned to hire a Police Commissioner to be over the entire District. It was a newly designed position that had already been created and approved, with a candidate set to start at the beginning of the fiscal year. However, they decided to rush her hiring, and she started around the beginning of August. This, in turn prompted my Chief to retire early. He had become fed up with the direction the District was moving in regards to the Commissioner, and plans to unify the seven departments into one. He told me that, on top of removing college administrative duties from his role, the powers-that-be had lied to him about what the Chiefs’ positions would be like when the Commissioner came into play. He had planned to retire in January or February of 2017, but he decided he had had enough, and nope out at the end of August.
It took two months to get the awards designed, approved, and printed in-house. Two. Months. It might have only taken one month if my Captain hadn’t kept them sitting on his desk for weeks. The speed at which he wasn’t moving on these things was breath-taking. Of course, we had to wait for my Chief to get back from his pre-retirement vacation, so that he could sign the awards, which then had to be framed before I could present them.
The entire time I was waiting, I was growing more and more enraged at the deafening silence around the work my dispatchers did that night. Other than a quick, “good job” from my Chief and Captain, nobody outside our office said a positive word about them. Of course, we don’t do the job looking for recognition. But, a certificate in a frame is really just bupkis. I tried to tell them every time I saw them that I was proud of the work they did, and that I was sorry no one else had given them any recognition. We all understood that the El Centro officers were going to be in the limelight—they were the ones in the line of fire. To us, though, it just seemed like we didn’t exist in the eyes of the District’s Board of Trustees. We already knew how the El Centro Chief saw us. Hell, the District never even offered a debriefing or counseling for us, which is standard practice for events like this. I don’t know if I would have attended if it had been offered, but, it would have been nice to have the opportunity. Once I had the certificates in my possession, I was able to schedule V and J on the same shift. I arranged with the officers from our shift at our campus to have a family meal from Babe’s Chicken, and I bought them dinner to go along with the awards.
At some point after the arrival of the new Commissioner, my boss held a meeting where he told us that there were plans to eventually move the dispatch office to the downtown area of Dallas. It was just a plan, but, one on which they would be going forward. It was going to be a five-year plus time frame, but, we would end up with new digs, and a much longer commute. I live in another county, quite a ways north of Dallas. There was no way in Hell I was going to make that commute for that job. The writing was on the wall, and thus began my search for another agency. I didn’t want to be a supervisor with DCCCD any more, and, stepping down wasn’t really an option. I had made enough enemies with some of the people I supervised, and going back to a peer status with them would have been untenable. As it was, another college district—one I had actually applied to about four years prior—was hiring. I decided to move forward with the process and am actually their most senior dispatcher. Of course, that’s its own story.
I hesitated for a long time in talking about my job in comments on the site. I may not be a sworn officer, but police work isn’t usually a pleasant topic amongst libertarian types, for good reason (ahem). However, it was during my time at DCCCD that I became a libertarian, and I began to see the profession for what it currently is. Interestingly, college-based policing is quite a bit different in many respects, and, I’m fortunate that my current agency is far more service-oriented, and, far less punitive than standard municipal/county policing. On top of that, none of my fellow glibs has ever treated me poorly over my employment, for which I am grateful.
I realize that I probably skipped over a lot of points that would make for a more in-depth article. As I stated earlier, if you have questions, I’ll answer to the best of my ability. It was a surreal night, and I’ve not dwelled on it that much since I left the District. I’ve tried to utilize what I witnessed/experienced for training others, so, it’s not for nothing. When I left, I recommended V for my position, which xe got. As far as I know, xe settled into the work easily enough. The last I heard, J was still working overnights, just as I do now. While I stay away from old work haunts, I wish the best for them. They deserve it, regardless of who notices.
**Thanks to CPRM, for helping me protect against some gender presumption