DALLAS — The police chief here said Monday that he felt as if law enforcement officers across the country are being asked to take on too much, comments that came as his department was still investigating the mass shooting of Dallas police officers last week and other cities continued to see heated protests against how officers use force.
Even as the Dallas police continued to sift through massive amounts of evidence from the shooting rampage that killed five officers — an effort that entails watching hundreds of hours of videos and conducting scores of interviews — David Brown, the Dallas police chief, said he believes officers in his city and nationwide were under too great a strain.
“We’re asking cops to do too much in this country,” Brown said at a briefing Monday. “We are. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it. Here in Dallas we got a loose dog problem, let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, let’s give it to the cops. That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”
During his remarks Monday, Brown also offered a hint of the toll overseeing the response to such a shooting was taking on him. Brown, who has lived through traumas including his son’s death following the young man’s fatal shooting of an officer, said he was “running on fumes.” The chief also said that he and his family received “received death threats almost immediately after the shooting.”
“We’re all on edge,” Brown said of police in Dallas. “And we’re being very careful.”
The Dallas police were diving into the background of the gunman — 25-year-old Micah Johnson, an Army veteran — as they were also preparing for the first funerals for the officers slain in the attack last week. Police on Monday released information on the funerals for three of the officers, which will begin on Wednesday and Thursday.
Still, Brown said that the strain of the attack would not deter him from continuing to push for reforms to law enforcement and for community policing, efforts that have made his police department a model for change after a dark history.
“This tragedy, this incident, will not discourage us from continuing the pace of urgency in chasing and reforming policing in America,” Brown said.
Brown said that he and other officers were frustrated with what police officers are being forced to do while lawmakers do not seek possible solutions to the country’s violence.
While he called for laws and policies that could make people safer, Brown did not specify what he was seeking, other than to say that “something on guns” has to be done.
“Ask the policy makers to do something, then I’ll give you an opinion,” Brown said.
Calls for reform and arguments over race and policing continued continued to roil the nation in the wake of a bloody, horrific week, which in a matter of days saw the fatal shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota spur outrage and demonstrations — and then, during one such protest in Dallas on Thursday, the deaths of five police officers gunned down by a man who authorities said had been motivated by racial outrage.
Brown’s calls for reform and for police to shoulder less of a burden followed demonstrations late Sunday in cities including Memphis, Atlanta and Baton Rouge, La. The capital city in Louisiana has been the scene of intense showdowns between protesters and heavily-armed riot police during demonstrations over the death of Alton Sterling, a black man fatally shot by a white police officer last week.
Some cities remained calm — like Memphis, where the interim police director linked arms with demonstrators — but the appearance of masked riot police in Baton Rouge, followed by widespread arrests there, evoked the frenzied unrest in Ferguson, Mo., which became a national flash point two years ago.
These demonstrations, the deaths in Louisiana and Falcon Heights, Minn., and the killings in Dallas have fueled a resurgent, bitter debate over policing and law enforcement. A chorus of calls for unity after the deaths of black men at the hands of police in Baton Rouge and outside St. Paul, Minn., were mixed with angry partisan finger-pointing.
Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani strongly criticized the “Black Lives Matter” movement, calling it “inherently racist” and again claiming that the “the real danger” to black children is “other black kids who are going to kill them.” (He has made similar comments before; statistics show that most killings are carried out by people of the same race as the victim.)
Charles H. Ramsey, who served as police chief in Philadelphia and Washington, also warned of another potentially dangerous moment in the near future, saying that it’s likely “some incident” will occur at the the coming political conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia because of the “extreme rhetoric” raging nationwide.
“We are sitting on a powder keg,” Ramsey said during an interview on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” Sunday. “I mean, you can call it a powder keg, you could say that we’re handling nitroglycerin. But obviously, when you just look at what’s going on, we’re in a very, very critical point in the history of this country.”
Brown said that in Dallas, investigators were still seeking clues about Johnson, who officials say had amassed ammunition, guns and bomb-making material. When they searched Johnson’s home, police found “a large stockpile” of explosive material, and what they found was enough to tell a bomb technician that Johnson “knew what he was doing,” Brown said Monday. “This wasn’t some novice.”
There was no evidence yet that Johnson learned about explosives from his time in the military, Brown said, adding that it was possible the gunman could have learned it online.
Investigators have questioned Johnson’s mother as they sought to piece together more of his background, behavior and plans, Brown said.
“We don’t know the scope of his plans yet,” he said.
Brown also said that the gunman appeared delusional and, at one point before he was killed by a bomb delivered by a police robot, scrawled the letters “RB” in blood. Investigators were still trying to determine what the letters meant.
Also on Sunday, El Centro College — the location that was the epicenter of the attack in Dallas, which unfolded during a protest over police shootings — said that two of the seven police officers who were injured and survived the attack were with the college’s police force.
One corporal was shot and injured by a bullet when Johnson shot out glass doors at the college’s entrance, the school said in a statement, but that corporal continued to work “with bullet fragments still lodged in his stomach.” The other officer was injured by glass shards sent flying by the gunman’s bullets, the school said.
In downtown, the crime scene that remained in a central chunk of snarled traffic on Monday and served as a reminder of a tragedy that still loomed over the city.
Darlene LaToure and her colleagues at a local law firm still couldn’t get into their offices Monday inside the Bank of America tower, which remained closed. Instead, they gathered around tables inside the Purple Onion restaurant a block away to do their best to carry on with business.
“It didn’t really hit until I came downtown today,” said LaToure, who typically parks in the garage where the shooting began.
It was hardly a routine day for Melvin Davis, who operates a street sweeper in downtown Dallas. Traffic was snarled. Roads were closed.
“I’ll be more than grateful for just a normal day,” said Davis, 52. The Friday morning after the shooting, he came to work to find a mostly deserted downtown that had turned into a sprawling crime scene.
“There was an eerie feeling in the air, given what had happened,” he said. “We couldn’t clear the streets because everything on lockdown.”
Instead, they cleaned a police memorial and a park downtown where a vigil would take place for the victims.
“The mood around here is still kind of somber. It’s still sad,” said Jeff DiCicco, who was setting up tables and chairs outside a nail salon and spa near the shooting site. “Everything is starting to come back to normal. But I don’t think it’ll ever be the same.
“It’s a weird feeling,” he added. “I’m leery. Everybody is leery.”
Christian Washington was ready to head back to his summer internship at Dallas City Hall on Monday. He had been part of the march on Thursday night, and held up his hand to show the still-healing injuries he’d gotten while fleeing from the gunfire.
“It’s not going to be the same here,” said Washington, 17. But at least returning to the office offered a way to think about something different. “To me, work is like a safe place.”
Berman reported from Washington. Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.
[This story has been updated.]