Getting To Know The Unions, Associations And Foundations That Support — And Shield — The Officers Of The Dallas Police Department.
George Floyd’s murder sparked more than just sweeping protests against police brutality and systemic racism. It also caused communities across the United States to scrutinize the fraught function of police unions and foundations within our justice system.
This scrutinizing and rethinking is especially germane to Dallas — a city of three police unions, over a dozen police related nonprofits, and at least two reform-minded police officers who are vocal about police unions’ pros and cons.
The three local police unions are nominally segregated by race: There’s the Black Police Association of Greater Dallas, the National Latino Law Enforcement Organization Greater Dallas Chapter and the Dallas Police Association. (One needs not be Latino to be part of the Latino organization, or Black to be part of the Black association).
These unions do more than just officer labor contract representation for members.
Most notably, the DPA — which has been accused by Dallas council member Adam Bazaldua of a cover-up in at least one murder investigation — operates the Dallas Police Officer’s PAC, which in the 2019 Dallas City Council election donated to six candidates. Notably, the three candidates who received the most money from the DPA’s PAC have mostly refused to consider divesting from the Dallas Police Department and reallocating those funds toward community investment.
The BPA and NLLEO, in addition to their union services, also offer behavioral health resources for officers. The BPA also operates the Black Police Association PAC — but after establishing this PAC in 2013, it hasn’t been used much since.
Of course, the unions are just the sword tip of the police-nonprofit-industrial complex. A variety of police-related nonprofits and foundations have emerged in cities across the country as a way to support departments with privately raised money that is used without the same level of scrutiny as publicly raised money.
The Dallas landscape of police foundations is a bit complicated; there are over a dozen organizations with a wide range of purposes — from conducting pro-police youth “outreach” to raising private funds to hire reserve police officers. Throughout the course of our investigation into these organization, we were able to identify that DPD operates, supports or is affiliated with the following nonprofit organizations:
- The Dallas Police Reserve Foundation, which raises private funds to hire reserve police officers and could conceivably provide “technology and weaponry that — were it purchased with public money — would come under far closer scrutiny.”
- The Friends of the Dallas Police, an organization that centers around a number of Dallas plutocrats donating money to and attending awards banquets for police officers.
- The Dallas Police Retired Officers Foundation, which lobbied to preserve a pension system that almost bankrupted the City of Dallas.
- The Assist the Officer Foundation, which provides financial assistance to officers who’ve lost income due to a serious injury, life-threatening illness or other “catastrophic events,” as well as to the families of killed active or reserve officers. (It also provides behavioral health counseling for officers dealing with stress, anxiety and depression.)
- The Dallas Fallen Officer Foundation, which, like the ATO Foundation, assists the immediate family of officers critically injured or killed on duty.
- The Dallas Police Youth Foundation, which aims to conduct education and “outreach” with kids.
- The Dallas Police and Fire Pension System, whose mismanagement led to bank runs, dire predictions of city bankruptcy and FBI and Texas Ranger investigations.
- The Dallas Police Department Museum Foundation, which aims to create a museum celebrating the history and archives of the Dallas Police Department.
- The Dallas Police Department National Police Week Foundation, which helps operate Dallas’ annual National Police Week events each May in order to remember fallen officers.
- There are also numerous nonprofit recreational clubs dedicated to funding interdepartmental camaraderie and teamwork, including the Dallas Police Cycling Team, the Dallas Police Hockey Foundation; the DPD Soccer Team; the DPD Running Team; and the Dallas Defenders Football Team.
The sheer volume and scope of these organizations is jarring. But what does their collective existence truly represent?
What Is a Police Union?
The Dallas Police Association (DPA) is the largest and oldest police union in Dallas — even if they don’t refer to themselves as a union, but rather as a “police employee organization.” Dallas’ other two police unions follow suit, calling themselves a “police association” and a “law enforcement organization,” respectively.
The DPA was founded in 1959 by “officers who recognized the need for Dallas’ officers to have a voice and representation in issues that affected them.” Its mission is to represent, support and protect its members.
The National Latino Law Enforcement Organization (NLLEO) was formed in 1991 with a similar mission: “to provide membership representation to the fullest” as well as promotional and leadership training and legal counsel for “scope of duty incidents.”
It’s here that the similarities between labor unions and police unions end.
Labor unions are typically on the political and economic left, and are concerned with social, racial, criminal and economic justice reforms, as well as workers’ rights. Just as they’ve supported the ongoing protests against police brutality and systemic racism, labor unions were similarly influential in the civil rights movement; as the Jacobin recently reported, “none of the major victories of the civil rights era were conceivable without labor support.”
Police unions, on the other hand, typically oppose criminal justice and police reforms, as well as proper punishment for police officers who abuse force. Police union leaders have come out in support of both Derek Chauvin — who kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds in Minneapolis, Minnesota, this past may — and the officers who brutally toppled the 75-year-old Martin Gugino at a protest that followed in Buffalo, New York.
As Vox recently reported, police unions — unlike typical labor unions — have historically been “profoundly conservative institutions that uphold a particular white ethnic, ‘law and order’-focused variant of right-wing politics.” Indeed, a poll by Police Magazine in 2016 of 3,652 working officers nationwide indicated that 84 percent of them planned on voting for Donald Trump, who was endorsed by the National Fraternal Order of Police in 2016 (and by the City of New York Police Benevolent Association this year). A 2018 research paper suggests that, despite also endorsing Romney in 2012, “survey evidence indicates that police officers reported increased political engagement in 2016 versus 2012,” and that the density of Fraternal Order of Police membership correlated with a rightward swing in votes compared to 2012.
The Black Police Association of Greater Dallas (BPA) was formed in 1975 to directly counter that culture of racism and sexism in the existing system. Its founders “had been warned not to form an organization that would openly challenge the Dallas Police Department’s race and gender bias policies, duality and disparate treatment of the people of color and women.” Considering that at times in the past as many as 50 percent of officers in DPD have at times also claimed an affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan, it’s not asinine to assume that the DPA, when first founded, may have served as a sort of second employee association for many of its members.
Strikingly, Dallas still has nominally racially segregated police unions to this day. In 2015 (before the DPA joined the national Fraternal Order of the Police), Jim Schutze wrote in the Dallas Observer that in Dallas, you’ve got the Black union, the Latino union and the white union all operating independent of one another. In 2018, the Dallas Morning News reported that talks of Dallas police union mergers had either been nixed or never panned out.
This is all to say: The history, purpose and character of police unions in Dallas is no simple matter.
Bad Apples Exist — And They Spoil The Whole Bunch
Back in early June, 17-year DPD veteran Sgt. Ira Carter candidly admitted to a small crowd of eager listeners, gathered on the steps of Dallas City Hall’s plaza, that police unions do manage to get many “bad apples” reinstated after they’ve been rightfully fired.
Carter’s frank statement was aimed squarely at the “good apple vs. bad apple” defense, which suggests we can fix police departments if we simply throw out the bad apples and leave the good ones.
His statement encourages us to finish the idiom: “One bad apple spoils the whole bunch.”
But unions exist to protect those “bad apples” and keep them from losing their employment status even after repeated on-duty mishaps. Thanks to the power of police unions, most police departments couldn’t even throw out their bad apples if they wanted to.
Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Union?
The Dallas Police Association is Dallas’ largest local police union. Charitably, it’s an organization that protects officers from wrongful firings and gives back to the community by supporting multiple foundations, such as the Dallas Metro Pipes and Drums and Santa Cops, the latter of which donates Christmas gifts to the families of crime victims who are, as a consequence of the crime, unable to provide them themselves.
The union’s current president is the 20-plus-year DPD veteran Mike Mata, a patrol sergeant at the Northeast Division who formerly worked at the Major Crimes Division and the Dallas Police Academy, and also as a first responder to DPA officer-involved shootings and other critical DPA officer-involved incidents.
Uncharitably, the DPA is an organization that protects criminal and killer cops. You might’ve read the recent DMN headline: “Grand jury declines to indict Dallas Police Association president, who faced tampering allegations in Guyger case.” You might’ve thought: Why is a police union president before a grand jury for a possible third-degree felony? Your question’s answer is key to understanding the controversy surrounding Mata, and, by extension, the DPA.
On the night of September 6, 2018, former DPD officer Amber Guyger — just returned home to her apartment complex after work — went to the wrong floor in her building, opened the wrong door, saw a silhouette and opened fire. The silhouette’s name was Botham Jean; he was eating ice cream, on his own couch, in his own apartment when Guyger killed him. Mata, head of the DPA, arrived on scene soon after; WFAA and the DMN reported that he told Sgt. Breanna Valentine, in whose car Guyger was sitting at the time of his arrival, to turn off the squad car camera which records suspects in the back seat.
Were Guyger a civilian, ordering and obeying that command would constitute a blatant crime — and, in point of fact, Guyger was a civilian at that point in time; she wasn’t on duty. For her part, Chief U. Renee Hall opened an internal affairs investigation into Mata’s actions, and a grand jury reviewed the evidence. Though the jury declined to indict Mata on any charges, many still have serious doubts and convictions about what happened that night.
“I believe that [Mata] is a culprit in some very shady activity that occurred during that investigation,” council member Bazaldua told us in an interview for another piece, about changing Lamar Street’s name to Botham Jean Blvd. “It was not only shady in that there was an obvious difference in how Guyger was treated, just being an officer — even though she wasn’t technically an officer when murdering Botham. So I don’t know what the union boss [was doing or] why he had a place there in the first place.
“But then, second of all,” Bazaldua continued, “as the union boss, are you representing yourself as the union boss while you’re wearing a badge and gun? So do the taxpayers now pay for you to protect the officers? We thought we were paying you to protect us.”
Another Dallas police officer with whom we spoke — Sr. Cpl. Larry Bankston Jr. — agrees with Bazaldua.
“DPA needs to cut that bullshit out,” Bankston says. “They need to call a spade a spade. If an officer is a bad officer and he does some bad shit, they need to start stepping and saying, ‘Hey man, we don’t support that, that was bad.’”
Mata has a pattern of protecting officers with a pattern of malpractice, too.
Says a DPD officer we spoke with who preferred to remain anonymous, fearing retaliation: “You can’t try to protect an officer when he has a pattern, or she has a pattern, of doing shit wrong, abusing people, and you try to use police science to protect them, and all that bullshit. And that’s what Mike Mata does.”
Bankston, tacking on to that, argues that, if the law enforcement is going to hunt repeat criminal offenders and the justice system is going to nail them, law enforcement should do the same for its own ranks.
“Chauvin was a repeat offender,” Bankston says. “I heard Guyger wasn’t a good cadet in the academy. See? People in the hood are plagued by the same ole gangsters, not the entire hood.”
As the Dallas City Council deliberates upon the just-released budget proposal and just-released protest after-action report alike, it’s worth noting who supports divesting from DPD and investing in communities, and who does not.
The DPA has operated a general purpose political action committee called the Dallas Police Officer’s PAC since 1986. They use the PAC to lobby and to donate to candidates at the city and state levels. In the 2019 Dallas City Council Elections, the PAC donated the following sums to city council candidates: $250 to Adam Medrano, Tennell Atkins and Omar Narvaez; $500 to Jennifer Gates; and $1,000 to Adam McGough and Cara Mendelsohn. (Mendelsohn also received $250 from Josh Mond, the general counsel for the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System.)
Just two months ago, in early June, a group of 10 City Council members sent a memo to City Manager T. C. Broadnax asking him to redirect public spending to realign with Dallasites’ priorities. In other words: They were asking Broadnax to kind of, sort of defund the police.
The signatures of Gates, McGough, and Mendelsohn were noticeably absent from that memo.
Broadnax himself recently stated, as reported by the Dallas Observer, that he has no intention to reduce the budget of the Dallas Police Department.
A Less-Imperfect Union
There are benefits to police union memberships and protections, which Bankston, a vocal DPD veteran vying for structural reform of officer-community interaction, has experienced firsthand.
After a messy breakup, his soured girlfriend approached somebody in the police department (Bankston doesn’t know who) and falsely accused him of insurance fraud, leading to Bankston being fired from the force. Then, he hired an attorney, who proved the department “100-percent wrong” in its decision to let him go.
Thanks to some assistance from Bankston’s unions — he’s a member of the FOP, the NLLEO and the National Black Police Association — DPD was forced to reinstate Bankston fully and give him around $90,000 in additional compensation. But, Bankston told us, the unions were not much help fighting the accusations; their specific role, he says, was to help get him reinstated.
Through Support Organizations, In Some Ways DPD Already Funds Itself Privately
If any single police nonprofit or foundation raises potential red flags with regard to the need for public oversight, it is the Dallas Police Reserve Foundation.
In effect, the Dallas Police Reserve Foundation raises money from wealthy individuals and corporations for an extremely wide range of purposes.
One only needs to visit the website to understand the broad mandate of the foundation: “The Dallas Police Reserve Foundation was established by business leaders, civic volunteers, and law enforcement professionals, along with the support of the Dallas Police Department. The Foundation is an independent and non-profit 501(c)(3) organization which is operated by a board of directors, who work closely with police leadership. The purpose and goal of the Foundation is to recognize the volunteer men and women of the Reserve Battalion and provide funding to support Reserve Battalion needs that are not covered in the regular Dallas City Budget. Your tax-deductible contributions will support the Reserve Battalion and the Dallas Police Department in various ways, including:
- Recruitment of Reserve Officers
- Equipment and technology
- Specialized training
- Crime prevention
- Neighborhood and traffic safety
- Innovative public safety programs.”
As ProPublica reported in 2014, police foundations have been used by various departments to raise funds for (and acquire) controversial technology and weapons without public scrutiny. Sometimes the same companies whose products are being purchased also donate money to the foundations who make those purchases.
Dallas Reserve Officers, though unpaid, are provided training and equipment at no cost. According to the DPD Reserves website, at least $2,000 is invested in the training of each volunteer, who are expected to work at least 16 hours a month.
But the reserve foundation is not the only way that DPD can score seemingly off-the-books equipment; direct donations are also allowed. On their websites, both the Dallas Police Mounted Units and the Dallas Underwater Recovery Team provide information on how to donate to them.
DPD has also received a number of direct in-kind donations over the years: $225,000-worth of Defense Technology 40-mm LMT Tactical Single Launchers (the same guns used against peaceful protesters in late May and early June) from Safer Dallas Better Dallas (the same 501(c)(3) nonprofit behind iWatch Dallas) in April 2016; Angel Armor ballistic plates from Central Market and Dickey’s Barbecue Pit’s Barbecue, Boots & Badges foundation, in February and June of 2017; and more ballistic plates and helmets from the Barbecue, Boots & Badges foundation in March 2018.
Is There A Point At Which Unions Won’t Help Bad Cops?
Three different organizations in Dallas provide financial support to officers who’ve lost income due to a serious injury, life-threatening illness, or other catastrophic event. There’s the Assist the Officer Foundation, the Officer Down Foundation (operated by the BPA) and Blue Guardian Foundation (operated by the NLLEO). All three of these foundations also offer behavioral health counseling, scholarships or other forms of assistance. Along with the Dallas Fallen Officer Foundation, these foundations also offer financial assistance to the families of killed or critically injured officers. While this plethora of foundations assisting officers and families is primarily for DPD, they can also serve law enforcement officers from across Dallas-Fort Worth. (The Blue Guardian Foundation serves officers across the country, even.)
We were curious if these foundations would — or could — support an officer facing disciplinary unpaid leave. We wondered, if the officer’s union were to deem the discipline unjust, if the union’s foundation would declare the unpaid leave to constitute “catastrophe” for the officer and their family — and would therefore fork over cash to the officer and nullify their punishment.
Though we contacted them in the first week of August, the ATO Foundation and the Blue Guardian Foundation have not responded.
The CEO of the Officer Down Foundation, Willie Ford, explained that Officer Down Foundation defined “catastrophe” as physical and that it has nothing to do with disciplinary leave. Moreover, he said, even if the foundation were to deem a punishment an unjust catastrophe, their charter would not allow them to financially assist the disciplined officer. Ford could not speak for the other two foundations.
Outside Financial Support Is Ingrained In Dallas Policing
As we’ve previously reported, the Friends of the Dallas Police’s illustrious board hosts a dinner in DPD’s honor — and gives them awards and scholarships on top of that.
But there might be a reason for Dallas’ influential elite to want to get on cops’ good sides. A number of board members, advisors and corporate donors, it turns out, have been involved in either alleged or documented cases of corruption — anything from SEC lawsuits and general lawsuits to fraudulent business practices and conflicts of interest.
At a certain point, the question is not why the board members and advisors want to be friends with DPD, but why DPD wants to be friends with these board members and advisors.
Is it just for the money?
Less Money, More Problems
The story of the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System is tortuous, and the entire fiasco is just one of many reasons why we’ve been saying for years that the Dallas Police Department is fucked.
Basically, in the early 1990s, the city of Dallas, DPD, and the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System created the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or, DROP. Because DPD was having trouble recruiting at the time, they tried instead to convince veterans to work longer. Under DROP, 20-plus-year veterans could technically retire while continuing to work — and, instead of withdrawing their pension check, they could place it in a DROP account, where it accrued at least 8 percent interest.
In mid-2016, this came to a head as police officers and firefighters with DROP accounts realized that their pension was toast and decided to get out while the getting out was good. This led to a run on the pension savings bank — to the tune of half a billion dollars — and mass retirement.
Then-mayor Mike Rawlings, claiming that the mass lump-sum DROP withdrawals would bankrupt the city, filed a lawsuit as a citizen and taxpayer in December 2016 in hopes of freezing the withdrawals. A few days later, the Dallas Police and Fire Pension Board voted to stop the withdrawals altogether. Then Rawlings asked the Texas Rangers to open an investigation alongside the FBI into the pension system’s former management.
But even before Rawlings requested the investigation, enough retired Dallas police officers had been pissed off enough about losing access to their DROP funds that they’d formed a new organization called the Dallas Police Retired Officers Foundation. The foundation’s stated mission and purpose is “to be a legitimate and proactive voice to protect and advocate for the retirement benefits and interests of retired Dallas Police Officers, their widows, survivors, disabled dependents and family members.” The retirees then pushed to reopen withdrawals from DROP accounts, despite Rawling’s warning that they could bankrupt the city in a decade.
After much acrimony and vitriol and huffing and puffing about how to reform the pension fund, a city-saving deal was reached in the state legislature and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in May 2017. The Dallas Police and Fire Pension System was saved. But the damage was done.
“For decades, cities have used the promise of lucrative and dependable pensions as a way to help recruit for public safety jobs,” the Texas Tribune reported in May 2017. “They also use differences in pension benefits as a way to pull more experienced officers from other cities’ departments. [Mike] Mata was already a cop when he heard that Dallas’ pension benefits could help him retire a millionaire.”
“I was specifically told that when I was hired from San Antonio,” Mata told the Tribune.
In other words, Mata says he took a paycut and moved to DPD in order to retire a millionaire.
Truth is, DPD has always paid far less than its neighboring police departments. Its pension and DROP systems were the only things attracting new recruits. Between a hiring impasse and a retiring exodus, Dallas still faces a shortage of police officers.
In turn, officials and administrators who set DPD’s recruitment requirements are therefore forced to lower the standards for hiring. Nowadays, an applicant needs only 45 to 60 hours of college credit in order to qualify for hiring. Superior officers, facing a lack of manpower, can’t afford to fire subordinate officers who ought to be fired.
“I have better expectations of you,” a superior officer reportedly told two other officers involved in the 2016 police murder of Tony Timpa during a disciplinary hearing. “I personally believe you are better than that. But I still need you on the force.”
The Timpa family lawyer, Geoff Henley, during a press conference, repeated that statement and commented: “That addresses something that everybody who’s been covering policing in the City of Dallas [for] going back three or four years [knows] is symptomatic of a much larger problem, and that is there’s been a shortage of officers. And now, there’s a genuine threat to the quality of law enforcement.”
Low quality law enforcement creates carnage. Four of the officers who smothered Timpa to death are still on the force. The fifth — the sergeant overseeing that extrajudicial execution — retired and is probably receiving his pension.
Getting Them While They’re Young
Recently, the Navy has faced scrutiny for practices which critical observers describe as recruitment techniques targeted at youth via the highly popular video game streaming platform Twitch.
The Navy insists its efforts in this regard are not recruitment but rather “outreach.”
Similarly, the mission statement of the Dallas Police Youth Foundation is “to support the youth outreach efforts of the Dallas Police Department (DPD) as they engage and mentor our kids to become future community leaders.”
DPD youth programs include a youth athletic league, an officer taught “life skills” in-school program and more explicit recruitment oriented programs such as the Junior Police Academy and Dallas Junior Explorer mentorship program.
Where these programs’ funding comes from is largely unclear. In 2015, Verizon provided the Dallas Police Youth Foundation a $60,000 grant. At the date of this writing, that foundation’s sponsors page for 2020 is marked “Coming Soon.”
It’s All Fun And Games Until Someone Gets Hurt
Dallas police officers seem to have no shortage of funding for games.
You know the Dallas Cowboys, sure. But do you know the Dallas Defenders? A member of the National Public Safety Football League, it’s a team composed solely of law enforcement officers, firefighters, detention officers, EMTs and military police from the Dallas area. Sponsored by the DPA, the ATO Foundation, Huffines Chevrolet Lewisville and the Frenkel & Frenkel Law Firm among others, its mission is to “raise vital funds for the families of fallen, injured, or terminally ill police officers and firefighters in the North Texas Area” through the “spirited competition of football.”
You know the Dallas Stars, but do you know the Dallas Police Hockey Foundation? Sponsored by the Dallas Stars and the Dallas Stars Foundation among others, the Dallas Police Hockey Foundation is a hockey team for DPD officers.
Do you know the Dallas Police Cycling Team, composed of active and retired officers who like to ride? Do you know the DPD Running Team, comprised of sworn and civilian DPD employees who like to run and race? Do you know the DPD soccer team?
These sports teams and foundations exist as 501(c)(3) nonprofits. They’re designed to boost camaraderie, to foster teamwork within DPD and to provide rest and relaxation opportunities for officers. They also raise funds and awareness for pressing police-related issues.
Surely, these organizations are the least controversial ones with which DPD is associated. Almost everyone enjoys some form of sport. But, ironically, these sports teams, foundations, organizations and infrastructure are precisely some of the things low-income communities and communities of color are requesting for the city to invest in rather than more policing.
The fact that many of these teams and foundations are nonprofits seems sensible, too. Then you recall that DPD has a budget of nearly $517 million — a full accounting of which, including detailed line items, the department has refused to share with the community.
When unilateral support is what police are accustomed to, even questioning the system is viewed as an act of aggression.
It’s a problem. And, clearly, a systemic one.