Police Crisis

San Antonio entices Dallas police with bonus and pension incentives

San Antonio entices Dallas police with bonus and pension incentives

Dallas police car
Dallas needs its police department. Dallas Police/Facebook

San Antonio wants our cops and is going big to get them. The Alamo City is seeking recruits for its police department via billboards on I-35, US 75, and the Dallas North Tollway, and they're getting a response — "hundreds of calls," says WOAI-TV.

Their offer includes a $7,500 sign-on bonus and what they call a "strong pension," a jab at the crisis hanging over Dallas' police and fire pension system.

In addition to the dire straits of its retirement fund, the Dallas Police Department is lacking long-term leadership. David Pughes has served as interim chief since David Brown retired in October 2016, but he doesn't want the job full-time, and the city hasn't even hired a firm to go out and find a new chief.

The job will have its share of challenges. Starting pay is lower than other cities. An aging force continues to retire. Officers are leaving for other opportunities nearby, with higher pay and less crime.

Hiring hasn't kept up. The city planned to hire 451 new officers this fiscal year, but that's now viewed as unachievable. The current goal is 200 officers, according to an April 7 memo to the City Council.

And there is the problem of the pension. It has a debt of almost $7 billion and is expected to be defunct in a decade. It needs about $1 billion to remain solvent, an amount roughly the size of the city's annual budget.

Mayor Mike Rawlings continues to dispute that the city is legally responsible for the fix. In November, he testified in Austin that the pension crisis could bankrupt the city. Already the city's bond ratings have been lowered by the Moody's credit rating agency because of the unresolved pension issue. That means it costs us more to borrow money to pay for things.

Rawlings was back in Austin on April 3 to testify against a measure in front of the Texas Legislature for consideration to resolve the issue. He said he would not support the proposal in its current state.

HB 3158 would extend the retirement age to 58 and forbid cost of living adjustments (COLA) until the fund became more secure. It also increases contributions from taxpayers and employees, and would take control of the pension fund away from the city.

On April 4, two former police chiefs and other retired assistant and deputy chiefs issued a letter outlining the crisis facing the Dallas Police Department, predicting "an inevitable rise in serious crime as Dallas loses officers and is unable to replace them."

The letter discusses a "looming law enforcement crisis" it claims is being caused by the pension. But the looming crisis isn't just about the pension. The city is unable to hire new officers. Pay is lower than surrounding cities. Working at DPD is more dangerous than elsewhere.

How did we get in this mess to being with? Who was in charge? David Brown was police chief from 2010 to 2016, when he abruptly retired following the July 2016 shooting of police officers in downtown Dallas.

That episode elevated him to national prominence, but crime had increased at the end of his tenure. Officers complained of low morale, and pointed to Brown as the cause. The Black Police Association of Greater Dallas called for his resignation, and the Dallas Police Association called the department "adrift" under his leadership.

Neither the city nor the department can afford to ignore the department's issues now, and the fund can't simply cease to exist in a decade.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, it'll be the taxpayers footing the bill. The failing pension is a catastrophe but far worse would be the demise of the Dallas Police Department itself.

It's surprising that poaching of our police department from cities like San Antonio didn't start sooner. Dallas police officers are ripe recruitment targets.