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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The COPS Office is pleased to feature the July 2017 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest—the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) Police Department. The winning photo features a young boy and a DART police officer having a conversation in Dallas’s Rosa Parks Plaza.
The Dallas Area Rapid Transit Police Department, also known as the DART Police, is responsible for safeguarding the longest light rail system in North America, covering 700 square miles and spanning 13 cities 1. With 64 stations, almost 12,000 bus stops, and nine transit centers, the DART system requires strong relationships with communities and local police departments to maintain the safety and security of its passengers. DART has Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with each of the 13 cities it travels through to ensure that emergencies and calls for service are answered promptly. If an incident occurs on a bus, rail, or train and a customer dials 911, the local police department is often the first to respond; however, DART police are not far behind.
“Believe it or not, on transit, they [passengers] want to see a police officer on every train and every bus. The expectation is just so high,” said DART Police Chief James D. Spiller, who has led the department since 2005. “We have a 10 to 12 minute response time to all of our buses and trains, which is absolutely amazing when you consider that we’re covering 700 square miles.”
Technology-assisted policing helps DART connect to its approximately 200,000 daily riders. With over 3,000 closed circuit television cameras, DART Police monitor activity 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With cameras at ticket vending machines and call boxes, police can see customers as they call for assistance. If an immediate threat exists in an area where no DART officers are patrolling, DART police can quickly contact local police to deploy to the scene and help diffuse the situation.
All DART Police officers are expected to provide five-star customer service. “We’re trying to wow our customers,” Spiller said. “Overall as an agency, we want to get our five-star rating up to spectacular. We want employees holding themselves responsible and accountable to make sure customers have a good experience. We provide personalized service with a proactive attitude.”
Community policing for DART includes requesting feedback and taking the time to respond to it. When DART Police hold any type of community event, they provide the customer survey to attendees and track the information in a database. The survey is about the entire system, not just public safety, so community members can provide information on any part of their DART experience. Spiller reviews the feedback and ensures that all concerns—not just public safety complaints—are answered to in a timely manner.
“If a customer indicates that they want to be called back and we see that no one has called them, I will call the vice president of that area [within DART] and make sure that they follow up with the customer,” Spiller said.
Spiller’s personal concern for customer satisfaction stretches to DART officers and their families as well. He puts a great deal of effort into ensuring the department successfully retains officers by making himself available to every employee. He has an open-door policy that he says is more than just words. Officers are more than welcome to visit him at any time, and he gives everyone his phone number in case they prefer to speak confidentially and privately. He also stresses that in recruiting officers, the department is also recruiting their families.
“We treat the family just as we treat the officers,” he shared. “Family members don’t need an appointment to come see me and they have my phone number also. They have reached out to me to tell me good things, and some have reached out for help. I tell them that I don’t want to get into their business, but if something isn’t working out right at home, let me know. Because we want their [officers’] minds clear when they are here. So if something’s not right, we want to know. We will take an officer or civilian and send them to whatever counseling or medical situation they need at no cost, and if we need to send the family, we’ll send the family also.”
That philosophy has been particularly significant this year for the DART Police and the entire Dallas community. Last July, DART Police lost one of its own in the tragic police ambush during a Dallas-area protest. Three DART Police officers were also injured, including the officer featured in this month’s winning photo. Officer Elmar Cannon regularly patrolled the Rosa Parks Plaza, a transportation hub for buses and light rail in Dallas’s West End—the same area where five officers were killed and nine were injured on July 7, 2016.
An average of 65,000 people travel through the Rosa Parks Plaza each week; to help maintain order, DART officers have maintained a strong presence there. Spiller explained that using the SARA (Scanning, Analysis, Response and Assessment) Model of problem-oriented policing, Dallas has seen a “drastic reduction in disorder” in highly trafficked areas, such as the Rosa Parks Plaza. Officer Cannon, who worked in the Rosa Parks Plaza area, often interacted with commuters. On the day that the photo was taken, Cannon was chatting with a young boy while his mother and sister stood nearby. DART staff photographer, Lupe Hernandez, captured the moment.
Yet, despite its best efforts to reduce crime and disorder in that area, the DART Police Department suffered a tremendous blow when a gunman fired upon police officers during an evening protest. Officer Cannon was shot in the shoulder that night as he and fellow DART Police and Dallas Police Department (DPD) officers attempted to locate and apprehend the gunman. His bravery and quick thinking helped the Dallas Police Department ultimately capture the shooter—though, sadly, one of his fellow DART officers did not survive the attack.
This tragedy was devastating for the department, as this was the first time a DART Police officer had been killed in the line of duty2 . And though Spiller had always emphasized the importance of mental well-being to DART staff, this incident required a new level of commitment.
“In 2003, when I was deputy chief, I had mandated that everyone involved in a critical incident had to meet with a psychologist and they would not come back to work until they were cleared. One, it was not an option. And two, no one was reporting to me as the deputy chief so that took away a lot of their fears,” he explained. “After the  shooting, everyone went, including myself.And that set the tone, it made everyone feel better.”
“We went back and took a look at lessons learned,” he continued. “We made changes. We changed our training.”
When asked if Officer Cannon was back on the job, Spiller proudly shared that he is, but he works in a different area now. “There was a lot of hesitancy to go back to that area. We kept close tabs on the officers that worked down there and those that worked downtown. Those officers that worked there [the area where the shooting occurred] did not go back. We put them somewhere else. All of the officers came back. And they’re all still here. They were all anxious to come back.” Spiller mentioned that one officer who was injured during the shooting is still out on medical leave, but plans to return once cleared by her doctor.
As we reach the one-year anniversary of that horrific day, the Dallas community will host a number of memorials to remember the officers killed in the line of duty. Spiller knows that it will be a tough day for officers and families and plans to offer additional counseling to those that need it.
“We like to consider ourselves as being one of the leading transit agencies in the U.S.,” he said. “I think we proved that extremely well with our response to the shooting in the July by the way we treat our employees. We focus on customers, but we focus on employees as well.”
The COPS Office congratulates the DART Police Department for being one of the 12 winners of the COPS Office 2017 Community Policing in Action Photo Contest and for its commitment to community policing.
*The COPS Office remembers DART Police Officer Brent Thompson, DPD Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, DPD Sgt. Michael Smith, DPD Officer Michael Krol, and DPD Officer Patricio "Patrick" Zamarripa.
Written with contributions from DART Police Chief James D. Spiller. Photo courtesy of Lupe Hernandez.
2 “Dallas Area Rapid Transit, 2016 Shooting, Wikipedia, accessed June 5, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dallas_Area_Rapid_Transit#2016_shooting.Tweet
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