A year ago this week, a gunman opened fire on a peaceful protest in downtown Dallas. When the shooting was over, five police officers were dead. In the year since, the Dallas Police Department has been buffeted by the retirement of a chief, a contentious pension battle and a continuing exodus of officers.
Despite these challenges, two brand-new officers say they’ve landed in the right department, in a city where they feel they can do some good.
Officer Brannon Barber has been on the streets for just a few weeks. Born and raised in Oak Cliff, he now patrols his old neighborhood as part of Dallas Police Department’s Southwest Division. And it’s been eye opening.
“Just the amount of crime that’s going on – the stabbing, the shooting, the robberies,” Barber says with a sigh, “I knew it was going on. I just didn’t know it was going on that much, that consistently, so that was a bit shocking for me.”
Barber gets mixed reaction wearing the uniform. He’s had people stop him on the street to say thanks. And he’s had tough encounters because trust with police is far from automatic in many of these neighborhoods.
Every morning, he has a ritual: After he gets up and dressed, he sits down and prays.
“I ask God to cover me in his blood and shelter me with his wings and allow me to stay out of harm’s way and return back home to my loved ones,” Barber says. “That, there, puts me in the right mind frame for what I’m about to encounter.”
It puts him at ease, and keeps him on his toes, he says, so he leaves the police station unworried, but wary.
“At any given moment, anything can happen,” Barber says. “July 7 can happen any day of the week.”
The July 7 attack happened just eight days after Barber enrolled in the Dallas Police Academy. Like the rest of the country, Barber watched, horrified and unable to help. Like his classmates, he decided to stay the course and enter the department despite the gravest reminder that officers face risk every time they go to work.
“The Dallas police family is a very tight family. So, when one officer is killed, it impacts the whole department, particularly in the way it happened; it’s a terrible thing. A lot of pain, a lot of grief,” says Danny Souder, a Dallas police chaplain for three decades.
A year after the attacks, Souder says many officers are still struggling to process the tragedy.