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Following other major department leaders, Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall to step down

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Dana Branham

The Dallas Morning News

Dallas Police Chief U. Reneé Hall, the first Black woman to lead the department, announced Tuesday that she planned to resign, saying she had received inquiries about “future career” opportunities.

While she initially said she’d leave by Nov. 10, she agreed to stay until the end of the year after City Manager T.C. Broadnax asked her to remain.

In her resignation letter to Broadnax on Tuesday, Hall was vague about her next steps, writing, “I must keep my next career step confidential.”

“These past three years have been saturated with a series of unimaginable events that individually and collectively have never happened in the city of Dallas,” Hall wrote in her letter.

Her announcement did not address her decision to submit her resignation on Tuesday, months ahead of her official departure and just after the three-year anniversary of when she started as chief.

Hall’s decision comes in the wake of a number of challenges that marked her short tenure.

Most recently, inconsistencies were revealed in the department’s after-action report on the first few nights of protests that followed the May 25 death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.

Hall, 49, has also come under fire for setting a goal for the department of lowering violent crime by 5% — too little for some after last year brought the city’s highest number of homicides in a decade. The uptick in crime became a contentious point for city officials.

After the protests, the lack of information from Hall about the use of chemical weapons and less-lethal ammunition during the June 1 arrests of 674 protesters on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge strained the trust of council members. Last week, Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot, citing a Dallas Morning News investigative report, said he was launching an investigation into police treatment of protesters.

Hall’s resignation announcement came as a surprise to City Council members and her executive command staff. Among the city’s police associations, reactions were mixed. Some were relieved that a new leader would assume the top position. The Black Police Association of Greater Dallas called Hall’s departure a loss for Dallas.

Mayor Eric Johnson last year demanded a plan from Hall on how she would tackle crime in 2020.

In a statement Tuesday, Johnson said he had not talked to Hall about her decision but indicated he was not “terribly surprised by it considering the recent public statements of my City Council colleagues.” He acknowledged that Hall had faced the burden and distinction of being the first woman of color to serve as Dallas police chief.

“That was not lost on me,” his statement said. “I wish her the best in her career and in her life moving forward.”

Historically, chiefs who have overseen the Dallas department — the 10th-largest police force in the country — have faced opposition from the powerful police unions and city officials.

John Fullinwider, a co-founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality, said Hall was a reform-minded chief like her predecessor David Brown, who retired in 2016, and others around the country. But the power of the largest police union, the Dallas Police Association, prevents significant changes in Dallas, Fullinwider said.

“She raised expectations that she ultimately couldn’t fulfill,” he said. “That’s because the chief is not the only power center in the department.”

Time in Dallas

Hall was previously a deputy chief over a neighborhood patrol division with the Detroit Police Department, where she spent 18 years.

When she arrived in Dallas, the department was facing massive staffing shortages because of attrition fueled by low officer pay and pension troubles. Hall said she would help the department improve trust between Black and Latino communities in Dallas. About 3,100 officers work in the department.

“What I need women to know is that we kind of do it a little different, a little better, a little bit more nurturing by nature,” Hall said in 2017 when she was announced as Dallas’ new chief. “We add that special something to law enforcement that truly, truly calms that savage beast.”

Broadnax said at the time that selecting a police chief was a difficult choice, but “I believe Reneé Hall will be a dynamic chief.”

On Tuesday, he said in a statement: “When you review Chief Hall’s Dallas record, there aren’t enough superlatives to describe the impact she’s had here.”

Hall had been chosen from seven finalists, who included Dallas Deputy Chiefs Malik Aziz and Rick Watson and former Assistant Chief Gary Tittle. She replaced Brown, who had recently been hired to lead the Chicago Police Department.

Hall, who assumed the top job on Sept. 5, 2017, described herself as a reform-minded chief facing historic challenges within the agency.

She was vocally supportive of police oversight reforms, which led to the creation of the Office of Community Police Oversight and a 15-member board that works closely with the office. After the protests, she made several policy changes, such as limiting the use of tear gas and less-lethal projectiles on crowds and requiring officers to intervene if they see police misconduct.

She also created the first youth internship program with the Dallas Police Department, which focused on getting job opportunities for students who live in impoverished and high-crime areas.

But the chief faced multiple difficult points in her career, including backlash over widespread demotions of well-liked and skilled commanders upon her arrival in Dallas. Hall said she made the demotions to streamline the department’s top-heavy command structure.

Hall also disbanded the vice unit in 2017 because of systemic problems related to audits and reports. An investigation into the unit dragged on for nearly three years and found no criminal wrongdoing. Morale dropped among the rank and file when highly respected commanders who tried to fix issues in the vice unit were issued the most severe discipline.

Last summer, she led the controversial deployment of Texas Department of Public Safety troopers to South Dallas. Critics said the massive and unusual joint operation, which took place during a crime wave, led to the use of stop-and-frisk tactics against impoverished people instead of tackling violent crime. Criminologists at the time said the tactic can lead to mistrust among marginalized communities.

In March, the coronavirus pandemic forced schools, businesses and government buildings to shut down, and Hall found herself managing officer safety.

She acted quickly, changing the way officers did details and had access to masks and protective equipment. At the height of the pandemic, Dallas fared better than other large departments, such as New York City and Detroit, where hundreds of officers became ill or had to quarantine.

Hall’s support among some Black political leaders remained steadfast.

Council member Carolyn King Arnold defended Hall through the backlash after the protests, saying she was being unfairly scrutinized as the first Black woman chief in the historically male-dominated Dallas department.

On Tuesday, Terrance Hopkins, president of the Black Police Association of Greater Dallas, said Hall helped the department adapt to best policing practices, leaning into technology and widely adopted reform policies that had not been formalized in Dallas. He credited her for restructuring the department’s intelligence-gathering center and for the newly overhauled police oversight board.

“She’s an amazing chief,” Hopkins said.

Officers react

Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata said that Hall’s resignation was appropriate and that he hoped the city manager would promote an internal candidate.

“We need somebody who already knows what’s going, what’s wrong — we have those individuals within the place too,” Mata said.

Sgt. George Aranda, president of the Dallas chapter of the National Latino Law Enforcement Organization, said the next chief needs to improve morale and put officers first. The organization in 2019 held a vote of no confidence for Hall and called for her resignation amid the vice investigation and spike in crime.

“Every association had high hopes, but it quickly faded,” Aranda said.

Members of Hall’s executive command staff said she is a compassionate leader who is driven by her faith.

Currently, the department does not have a second-in-command, after David Pughes left to take a new role at City Hall.

Assistant Chief Avery Moore, the highest-ranking commander after Hall, said he wished her the very best, adding that he would not be surprised if one day she ended up on Capitol Hill.

“She opened a lot of eyes in how policing can change and be better,” Moore said.

Moore said the department did not yet have an interim chief in mind.

Deputy Chief Reuben Ramirez said Hall loved serving in Dallas. He said most police chiefs spend three to five years in this city.

“This is a major-city organization, and we have a command staff that understands the fast pace of policing today, so we have to be ready for sharp turns and shifts. Unfortunately this is part of it,” Ramirez said. “I don’t have any doubt that even with Chief Hall’s departure that we will have commanders in key roles who will step up and not miss a beat.”

Staff writer Dianne Solis contributed to this report

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