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After attack, Dallas police recruits say they’re more committed than ever

Marketplace Contributor Aug 15, 2016
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Police recruits line up for a uniform inspection at the Dallas Police Academy.
Christopher Connelly

In July, a gunman opened fire on police officers in downtown Dallas, killing five law enforcement officers. Since then, the Dallas Police Department has been sorting through a deluge of job applications.

Nearly 500 people applied in the early days following the shooting after Police Chief David Brown called for people to get off the protest line and put in an application. Those applicants still have to take a civil service exam and be interviewed and vetted.

But those recruits already enrolled in the nine-month Dallas Police Academy are entering  the field as the department struggles with tragedy and attrition amid a contentious debate about policing practices.

Their morning starts at 7:55 on the dot at the academy in south Dallas. The recruits form neat rows in the parking lot, raise the flag, and report in. Then, they drop to the ground and do push-ups.

These 100 recruits are mostly men. They’re racially diverse, like the city they’ll serve. All of them started their training before the shootings that rocked Dallas.

“We were scared. I mean, we’re normal human beings. We’re going to be scared,” said Chelsea Montanino, whose class started just one week before the attack. “We didn’t really know each other, but I feel like it really pushed us to come together as a family and as a team.”

After the shooting, the recruits worked funerals for the fallen officers. Thousands in law enforcement from across the country attended. 

For new recruit Brannon Barber, that show of solidarity helped him realize “that I’m not out here alone, but I have the support from my brothers and sisters from around the nation.”

All police recruits in Dallas are taught Spanish. Here, recruits practice intercepting an armed burglary suspect using Spanish phrases.

All police recruits in Dallas are taught Spanish. Here, recruits practice intercepting an armed burglary suspect using Spanish phrases.

Policing is a field in the middle of a fierce debate. Dallas-born Barber is African-American, and said you can’t judge all police by the actions of a few.

“It doesn’t define what policing really is,” Barber said. “But it’s going to take us as a team, as a unit, as police officers collectively to rebuild relationships with the community to where they’re fighting with us instead of against us.”

Dallas has struggled to retain officers, in part because of low pay. Still, Deputy Chief Jeff Cotner said these recruits enter the field at an exciting time.

“It’s a good time to make positive change,” said Cotner, who oversees the department’s training programs. “It’s a good time for law enforcement to reflect upon what it is that they need to do, adhere to some best practices, and review everything that we do and make it better.”

Cotner said his recruits will be ready to be that better police force when they go out on patrol.

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