DPD Chief Eddie Garcia
New DPD Chief Eddie Garcia wants his officers and the LGBTQ community to be safe
DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer
When more than 100 police officers joined Chief Eddie Garcia to raise the official Dallas city Pride flag, none of the officers were told to attend; they were told they were welcome to attend. That’s the atmosphere Garcia wants his department to have, and officers and the public are responding to it.
Many more officers said they would have attended but were unable to because they were out around the city patrolling.
“We’re going to be loud about being allies,” Garcia told Dallas Voice this week. “Raising the Pride flag in front of headquarters was important.”
While other Dallas police chiefs have been more reserved in their support, Garcia describes himself as a “meet in person, laughing, gotta show you care” kind of guy, and our conversation proved that to be very true.
And care he does, even though coming from California, he said he finds some things about Texas, well, interesting. “There are things that are astonishing to me,” he said, without criticizing — or even specifically mentioning — statewide officials or this last, exasperating legislative session.
Originally from Puerto Rico, Garcia spent his entire police career with the San Jose police department in California before being hired by DPD earlier this year as Dallas’ 30th police chief and first Hispanic police chief.
Garcia began his police career in 1992, the same year the Mica England case against the Dallas Police Department was settled. He finds it astounding that new recruits were asked on a polygraph exam whether they were LGBTQ and that they were refused a position for answering yes. In fact, he was so surprised by DPD’s bizarre history around hiring gays and lesbians that he looked over at LGBT Liaison Megan Thomas to confirm whether DPD really used to ask the question to new recruits.
“They asked that on a polygraph?” Garcia asked in amazement. Thomas nodded.
Garcia laughed and said in his department, honesty and openness were reasons to hire someone, not to exclude them. He went on to explain the work environment he wants to create in his department: “I want people to feel safe at work.”
After all, he said, how can officers be expected to make people feel on the streets, if they don’t feel safe themselves among their own colleagues.
Garcia also said he’d love to expand the liaison’s office to more than one person, but there’s a personnel shortage right now. That’s why recruiting the best people from all communities is a priority for him. At Dallas Southern Pride’s recent Juneteenth Unity Festival, DPD had a recruiting booth, and the chief hopes to recruit at other upcoming LGBTQ events as well.
And does that include recruiting in the transgender community? Sure, he said, since the department already has several successful trans officers. And, Garcia said, Dallas would benefit from more like them.
Garcia said people need to know they’ll be safe being themselves in the department and turned to Thomas to share her experience. Thomas said her move to Dallas just a few years ago, “a scary thing.” But, she added, “You need to know it’s OK to come and be out in the academy. It’s safe to be an officer here.”
The chief said he wants to make Dallas and the DPD a safe place for everyone. “There are lots of reasons not to come out,” he said, but being safe in the department shouldn’t be one of them.
Garcia knows he and his officers can’t do it alone. He needs the community’s support to make Dallas a safer place. To that end, the chief introduced the new Safe Place program to the LGBTQ community earlier this week.
Businesses displaying a Safe Place decal on the door welcome someone who’s been the victim of a hate crime to find a safe place to report the incident and wait for police to respond.
“It’s a program I got into in my old department in San Jose,” Garcia said. “It originated in Seattle.”
He added that it’s a program that works for all groups who’ve felt marginalized, not just the LGBTQ community where the program began.
Businesses interested in participating can contact Thomas at DPD headquarters.
To let the LGBTQ community know how serious he is about being an ally concerned for our safety, Garcia walked Cedar Springs Road with former Mayor Pro Tem Adam Medrano. He said the reception from some members of the community was warm and welcoming, but he wished he could say that the welcome was universal. Despite being introduced by a very popular member of the LGBTQ community, he said he knew not everyone was happy to meet him.
But Garcia is realistic: He understands that many people in the LGBTQ community have had bad experiences with police, and that means he and his officers will have to work that much harder to gain the community’s trust.
Garcia said the first time someone encounters a police officer shouldn’t be during a crisis. He likened it to an emotional bank account: Make some good deposits so that the withdrawals aren’t as painful.
But, Garcia said, he’s not looking to be popular, though, just effective.
“We will bring down crime,” he said in a way that you understand he sees that there’s simply no choice; it’s something he will accomplish. His goal is to make Dallas one of the safest big cities in the U.S. And he knows some things he’ll have to do to make that happen won’t be popular.
He has a list of ideas, starting with the fact that “We’ve got to do a better job hiring.” He thinks officers need to be tracked, so that bad officers don’t go from one department to another.
De-escalation training is important to Garcia, and “the first time an officer goes into a community of color can’t be after training,” he said.
Garcia said he believes defunding the police “is a terrible idea.” But he does believe money should be spent differently, and he is proud of expanding the department’s Right Care program around the city. Through that program, instead of an officer with little mental health training leading a mental health check, a team of consisting of a clinician, a medic and an officer takes those calls. That program needs to continue to be expanded, he said.
Garcia’s list of ideas of how to improve policing goes on. But he knows that change is difficult, and he knows that not all of his ideas will be popular.
“If you want to be liked,” he said. “Don’t be a leader.”
But with his infectious charm and big smile, you just gotta like Eddie Garcia and be glad he’s our new chief.