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Leading Off (2/4/16)

Southwest pilots picket for higher pay. Yesterday, hundreds of Southwest Airlines pilots picketed outside of Love Field to address the fact that they still don’t have a new contract after negotiating for four years. They held signs with “It’s time for a contract” written on them. Negotiations for a new contract will begin again in March.

50 police officers could be added to force. For the coming fiscal year, city council members are informally in favor of adding 50 more cops than the usual 200 added annually. This would add $2.3 million to the budget for next year. Police Chief David Brown noted to the council that, since 2010, his department has lost 200 officers.

Plano man loses thousands in fraud scheme. 88-year-old Plano resident Bob Devinney, a former University of Kansas track star who set a national record in 1952, lost $250,000 in retirement savings due to a Jamaican fraud scheme. The suspects had talked to Devinney on the phone, told him he won the lottery, and over two years asked him to pay insurance and taxes on his “winnings.” Devinney had planned to use his savings to take care of his wife, Sarah, who has Alzheimer’s.

Leading Off (1/7/16)

State trooper indicted for perjury regarding arrest of Sandra Bland. Sandra Bland was arrested in July of last year during a traffic stop in Prairie View and was later found hanged in her Waller County jail cell. Brian Encinia, the Texas state trooper who arrested her, was indicted yesterday for perjury and will be fired. The grand jury believed Encinia issued a false statement as to why he made Bland get out of her car during the stop.

City Council considers pilot program for giving tickets for marijuana possession. Pretty soon, people in Dallas who are caught with four ounces or less of marijuana could be ticketed instead of arrested. Council members see the potential policy change as time-saving, as it would allow police to concentrate more on violent crimes. They also said it would be more in line with the national movement to legalize marijuana. The ticket would still include a court date, where a judge would ultimately make a decision. City council members will vote on the pilot program at an upcoming meeting.

Ethan Couch’s dog missing in Mexico. “Affluenza” teen Ethan Couch and his mother, Tonya Couch, may have been caught by police, but their dog, Virgil, is still missing in action. The Puerto Vallarta SPCA posted a missing-dog notice. Hopefully Virgil is found safe and sound.

Three hospitalized after Lewisville Starbucks crash. A car crashed into a Starbucks in Lewisville yesterday, and three people were taken to hospitals. A Subaru ran a red light, crashed into two other cars, and went through a window of the coffee shop, injuring three patrons.

Dallas and Tarrant Counties Are Two of the Deadliest for Police Killings

An alert FrontBurnervian points us to a compelling story in the Guardian about the U.S. county with the most police killings per capita. It is Kern County, in California. You should read the story (the Guardian’s online presentation is pretty slick). But about midway through the story, I saw this chart and was a little startled to learn that Dallas and Tarrant counties are in a five-way tie for fifth place. I mean, Chicago has had a rash of gun violence, yet Cook County, Illinois, with more than twice Dallas County’s population, has fewer police killings. What’s going on here?

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Leading Off (10/22/15)

Texas health resources appeals decision in Nina Pham’s lawsuit. THR, which owns Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, appealed a judge’s order regarding the lawsuit filed by Nina Pham, a nurse who contracted Ebola while treating Thomas Eric Duncan. The judge’s ruling temporarily stops the Texas Workforce Commission from saying whether THR is a co-employer of Pham with the hospital. If THR were ruled a co-employer, the lawsuit would be categorized as a worker’s compensation claim. Pham, who got the disease a year ago, recovered but is still experiencing ongoing health issues. She maintains that THR did not appropriately train and protect its staff.

Dallas Police to expand patrol in oak lawn following violent attacks. Dallas City Council member Adam Medrano announced yesterday with the DPD that patrol would be increased in the Oak Lawn area. Medrano represents Oak Lawn and is chairman of Mayor Mike Rawlings’ LGBT task force. Residents have voiced concern about poor lighting and lack of cameras near businesses. There have been about eight incidents of assault or robbery since the beginning of September, all of which occurred late on weekend nights. Expanded patrol will include bike officers, undercover officers, and officers on foot.

Margot Winspear, RIP. The Dallas opera house namesake died Tuesday in an assisted-care facility at age 83. She and her late husband, Bill Winspear, had contributed $42 million to the building of the AT&T Performing Arts Center and the Winspear Opera House.

Flash flood watch for north texas begins tonight. This weekend, rain will take over for sunshine. Starting tonight, expect rain through Sunday. And with the dry state North Texas is in, we won’t complain about it.

A Police Officer Explains Why Many Are Frustrated with DPD Management

My column for the November issue of D Magazine (on your newsstands in four short weeks) deals with the concerns of Dallas police officers. In said story, I say that the largest police organization, the Dallas Police Association, is wrong to buy into the silly narrative that there is a “war on cops.” I say they are absolutely right, however, to blame the administration for poor police response times. For days, I’ve been sent pictures of 3rd-shift details at large police substations that show only five or six officers available to handle calls from 3 p.m. to midnight.

This, I argue, is the issue that people care about. This is the concern supported by the data. This is why cops aren’t showing up for hours. And this is the concern that at least partially led to the behind-the-scenes meeting at City Hall last week, where Chief David Brown’s tenure was discussed.

In the column, I quote from a letter written by police officer Louis Mills.

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Leading Off (7/14/2015)

The Barnett Shale is Off-Gassing More Greenhouse Gasses Than Previous Thought: The EPA botched its initial estimates, and as it turns out, fracking in the Barnett Shale is responsible for 64 percent of all methane in our local atmosphere. The good news: most of those emissions are the result of human errors and mechanical failures.

Let’s Put Those Increased Violent Crime Numbers in Perspective: The Dallas Morning News breaks down the much-reported 10 percent increase in violent crime. The takeaway? Glass half-full, glass half-empty. You could argue the increase reflects a return to a historical norm. And if violent crime continues at pace through the end of the year, murders will be at the same level they were 2013 and 2012, while aggravated assaults would only see a 0.4 percent increase over last year.

When Will We Finally Run Craig Holcomb Out of Town? Read Eric Nicholson’s look into the laughable bike share program in Fair Park. I mean, it couldn’t be more stupidly designed, so it will come as no surprise that the usage numbers are equally laughable. But here’s the important bit: when Nicholson tried to get the usage numbers through an open records request, he was stonewalled by the Friends of Fair Park, which operates the program. That decision to not to release the bike share numbers was then upheld in a ruling by the Texas AG.

I mean, seriously? Bike share numbers? We’re keeping those under lock-and-key? Why? Because Friends of Fair Park – which is run by Craig Holcomb, who also heads the Trinity Commons Foundation – doesn’t want more mud on his face for a program that anyone who has any idea about anything looks at for two seconds and thinks, “Good God, that is the sorriest excuse for a bike share program I have ever seen in my entire life.” I mean, seriously? How long are we going to let Holcomb meddle in the city’s business? How long are we going to let him lord over his two little fiefdoms, which happen to involve two of Dallas’ greatest civic assets – Dallas and Fair Park – both of which have languished for decades under the weight of curiously stupid ideas? For the love of all things good, Criag Holcomb, will you please just drift off into a quiet retirement and leave Dallas alone? Please. Thank you for your service. Now go away.

New Designer Drug in Town: It’s called Flakka, and it doesn’t sound like too much fun. Effects include “murderous rage, paranoia, ultra-violence, and running around screaming.” Or basically what it feels like to read about Craig Holcomb’s meddling in Dallas affairs.

It’s Finally Texas Hot: After cool temps and so much rain, we can’t really complain about DFW finally flirting with 100 degrees (heat index popped up to 109 in some places yesterday). Well, unless the AC goes out in your entire apartment complex. Then you can complain.

Dallas State Rep Wants to Turn ‘Cop Watchers’ Into Criminals

One of the legacies of Michael Brown and Eric Garner is a network of so-called “cop watchers,” volunteer groups who police the police with video cameras. Locally, there are a few networks, including Cop Watch Dallas and Dallas Cop Block who have caught instances of questionable use of force by area police on camera. Needless to say, cop watchers make cops uncomfortable. Last year, Arlington police arrested three citizens whose only offense was filming officers. This was after the cop watchers rolled up on Arlington police arresting a man. As soon as the cops saw the camera, they let the man go, according to the Dallas Observer.

Some police departments and municipalities argue that filming police interferes with officers’ police work, while cop watchers say their actions are protected by the first amendment, an argument that was backed up last year by a ruling by a Texas judge. But if State Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) has his way, “cop watching” will become illegal. Enter House Bill 2918, which amends the state’s penal code, making filming within 25 feet of an officer “performing a duty or exercising authority imposed or granted by law” a class B misdemeanor. Video taping of police is allowed if you are a member of the news media, but as The Free Thought Project points out, the bill also defines the media in such a way that it excludes internet sites — not to mention documentary filmmakers. If this bill is passed, in Texas you would have to be a member of a law enforcement agency, or an employee of a radio station, television station, weekly or daily newspaper, or magazine in order to turn on a camera within 25 feet of a police officer.

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Dallas Police Water Rescue Caught on Body Camera

Last August, the Dallas Police Association pushed for the department and the district attorney’s office to provide all uniformed cops with body cameras. The DPD field-tested lapel cameras in 2014, with an original plan to equip up to 2,500 cops. These cameras have already proved useful in officer-involved shootings. But here we have something different.

According to the DPD blog, a man lost control of his car last Friday night near 5800 Military Parkway and plummeted 50 feet into a creek. As his vehicle flooded with water, officers from the department’s Southeast Crime Response Team (CRT) Unit were able to pull him out through the window. The body cam video was released as part to the DPD’s efforts to “enhance public safety and transparency.” Fortunately, the cops were nearby and able to respond when a witness called it in.

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Downtown and the Homeless: Is It Time to Consider Relocating The Bridge?

Last week I was invited by the Dallas Homeowners League to moderate a panel which included representatives from four central Dallas neighborhoods: The Farmers Market, Deep Ellum, The Cedars, and downtown. There was plenty to talk about, from connectivity, to public safety, to development, to schools, to highways, to greenspace, and on and on. We probably could have jabbered on for hours and hours, but the DHL folks run a tight ship and the pug was pulled promptly at 8 p.m.

The last topic we discussed was probably the one most residents in those four areas were most concerned about: homelessness.

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Huey P. Newton Gun Club Marches in Dallas To Protest Police Shootings

An alert FrontBurnervian points us to a Reason post about the Huey P. Newton Gun Club and its open-carry protest march through South Dallas. The group went into a restaurant carrying rifles, shotguns, and AR-15s. Some Dallas cops were eating there.

Naming a gun club after a co-founder of the Black Panthers and marching with long guns to protest police shootings struck me as — counterproductive? Is that the word? Needlessly confrontational?

But then I followed a link in that post to the cellphone video of two St. Louis cops gunning down 25-year-old Kajieme Powell on Tuesday. And I thought, My God, what is happening in our country? How can this happen? Naming a gun club after a co-founder of the Black Panthers and marching with long guns to protest police shootings starts to look reasonable. Necessary even.

Watch the video. Force yourself to do it.

Dallas Cop: ‘The Ideal Police Response to a Protest Is No Response at All’

The sad events in Ferguson, Missouri, are echoing all over Dallas today. The DMN offers an editorial criticizing the actions of the police there. Our own police chief has written an op-ed wherein he talks about how he handled a similar police shooting in 2012. You should read it. And then you should read this Washington Post story written by Radley Balko. Balko is the expert on the militarization of our nation’s police. Eric talked to Balko for a story he wrote for us in January about North Texas’ SWAT teams. Here’s the most interesting, most Dallas-centric part of Balko’s WaPo story:

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Are Dallas Cops Really Disgruntled?

The Dallas Police Association put out a release this morning about a morale survey that was conducted among its membership. As the DMN has pointed out, the results do not look good. Eighty percent of respondents said morale in the department was “low” or “the lowest its ever been.” No question that Chief David Brown has a situation on his hands that needs addressing. But a few words about the limitations of this survey before anyone thinks the sky is falling:

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DMN Headline Says Former Police Chiefs Against New Plan, Except Kunkle Isn’t

I admit I missed this when I read the story today, because I got through about half of it and thought, “Okay, all the former Dallas police chiefs think the civilian-hiring plan by current Chief David Brown is politically problematic.”

As councilman Philip Kingston realized: Nuh-uh. You have to wade through about half the article, but our most recent former chief, David Kunkle, says that even though the civilian-hiring plan has real-world problems, it’s worth moving forward and trying to implement it again.

Kunkle said he remains a firm believer that putting civilians in as many jobs as possible is a good plan. Officers should be out on the street, he said, and keeping civilians around should be part of any long-term plan.

Just so we’re clear.

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Leading Off (5/21/14)

Dallas Legislative Race Expensive, Nasty: The runoff battle for House District 108 between Republicans Morgan Meyer and Chart Westcott has already cost more than $2 million, but the bitter tone of the campaign is now waging a personal toll. Yesterday, in the latest twist, Kevin M. Curley II quit in protest as chairman of a PAC that supported Westcott after the campaign sent an anti-Meyer flyer which included “a fake Meyer mug shot, a bottle of liquor and a roadway with a streak of blood.”

Could an Expensive Special Benefit Plan Bring Down Dallas Police-Fire Pension Fund? The Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP, sounds like a pretty sweet deal. When a cop or firefighter hits retirement age, he or she can start collecting pension benefits while still earning a full salary. The pension is invested in a special account that earns 8-10 percent interest a year. The problem is, while intended as an incentive to keep experienced veterans on the job, DROP costs the pension fund more than $100 million a year. Pension fund officials told the Dallas city council yesterday that those costs have out-paced low interest rates and the fund’s under-performing real estate investments.

Allen Faces $600K to $1 Million in Repairs for Eagle Stadium: The $60 million dollar high school football stadium deemed “not safe” faces upwards of $1 million in repairs. Fans are bracing themselves for a season played on the road in Plano.

Man Missing at White Rock Lake: Dallas Fire-Rescue crews still haven’t located the body of a man who was seen jumping into White Rock Lake yesterday afternoon. Witnesses say the man struggled to tread water before going under and not coming up about 40 yards from the shoreline.

No, He’s Not Johnny Manziel, But Dallas QB Pick Still From A&M, Has Sideshow Appeal: TMZ doesn’t care about Dustin Vaughan, the Cowboys’ undrafted QB signing from West Texas A&M. But Vaughan, described as a “gym rat,” does have a workout parody video that has drummed up a few hundred thousand views on YouTube.