If you’ve been on social media at all, you have probably come across one of Nick Novello’s comments or posts about the Dallas Police Department. A veteran officer, he’s kind of known for not holding his metaphorical tongue when it comes to hot takes on policing.
Yeah, you’ve probably heard of Nick Novello.
An officer with the Dallas Police Department since 1982, the former Navy recruit and Bronx-born cop has been speaking out for several years now on critical police shortages and under-staffing in Dallas. He criticized former Chief Brown for what he felt was grandstanding after the July 7, 2016 shooting ambush of five DPD officers. He says does not see Chief Hall as much of an improvement.
Now Novello is writing a book and producing a documentary called “Dallas is Dying,” in a similar vein as a movie produced called “Seattle is Dying.” His premise: Lack of respect for police and policing in Dallas, lack of strong leadership, plus a high concentration of poverty has resulted in unprecedented high crime for a city of 1.4 million that soon, he says, will no longer be just in places like South Dallas, where high concentrations of poverty and opportunity gap persist.
The city saw evidence of that with a record number of murders the month of May, more than the city has seen in almost two decades.
Novello has acquired a significant following across town — north and south — of individuals he says are willing to pitch in. He namechecks people like Susan Fountain with Citizens Matter, Troy Jackson with the South Dallas County Republican party, investor/radio host Eugene Ralph.
He has spoken to many groups — conservatives, liberals, homeowners and the country club set. He is known in Highland Park, Preston Hollow, and North Dallas. Novello says that some groups have tried to make him a political pawn, but he won’t have it.
He does agree with the Dallas Police Association, of which Novello is a member, who endorsed Scott Griggs in the current mayoral election, and says that Griggs is supporting the facts, but feels Eric Johnson doesn’t understand the crisis. It’s so bad that this week Gov. Greg Abbott offered to make the resources of the state (including the Texas Department of Public Safety) available to quell any increase in murders in Dallas.
The Dallas Police Department is not exactly thrilled about his negative messaging, he said, but they have not shut him up, though one of his superior officers was moved after Novello addressed the Dallas City Council this spring.
And the Dallas Police Association doesn’t seem to be countering any of his claims.
“What’s right is right,” said Mike Mata, president of the Dallas Police Association, told the Dallas Morning News. “I appreciate the fact Nick Novello is doing what he feels is right in giving the correct information to the council and letting them know what’s truly happening out there.”
Novello says he feels that if crime continues unchecked, it will spread in greater concentrations to other areas that typically don’t experience violent crimes frequently.
“People in North Dallas have a shock coming,” says Novello. “The violence is concentrated in South Dallas, but it’s spreading. It’s spreading north to Uptown, McKinney Avenue, Monfort, Coit, and Beltline.”
“We are living in a city where cops don’t come anymore,” Novello said just days before Dallas finished one of the bloodiest Mays in history, with 41 murders, and just before shootings near Fair Park killed one and injured three more, and before a college-bound Desoto teen was murdered in Downtown Dallas, and an innocent 14-year-old was gunned down Pleasant Grove.
“They are afraid to respond because they may have no help coming, no back-up. Police response times are way worse than you think,” he asserted. “Priority calls are being sent to officers who can’t respond on purpose, just to clear the emergency off the board. Do you really think you can browbeat the hell out of cops and still expect them to answer calls?”
And he says a recent statement by Hall about the recent crime spree left him slack-jawed in disbelief.
“The police department is not able to arrest our way out of this,” Hall said. “There are socio-economic issues related to crime in this city. There are individuals who have returned from prison who cannot find a job, who are not educated. So in those instances, those individuals are forced to commit violent acts.”
“Then why are we arresting them?” he asked. “If in fact, she is right, then our act of arresting them could be construed as an act of oppression.”
Just three months ago, says Novello, Hall said the city didn’t need additional officers, but now Assistant Chief Avery Moore says we are 600 officers short.
Novello insists the violence is centered south of I-30. At the same time, Novello says we have a police department under siege.
“There is an inverse relationship between stress and performance. We have 2,900 police now, but only 1,500 bodies actually working,” says Novello. “Yet we have 70 NPO (Neighborhood Police Officers) doing meet and greets and departmental public relations. Why?”
Novello asserts that 61 officers are handling violent crime in a city of 1.4 million with a population that swells during the day, but says Hall has said she is not sure more cops are available.
Could perceived rises in crime send home buyers flocking to the suburbs, which could lower Dallas property values? What does Novello think the solution to Dallas’ crime woes is?
For one, he says, it’s not just one solution.
“First we define the problem,” says Novello, adding that the public should look for mayoral candidates that have done that. “We admit there is a problem and confront it.”
Part of that, Novello says, is by giving officers a market-driven wage to attract enough people, because no one is going to come to a crime-laden city for less than they can make in a nearby community. The current $60,000 salary is nothing, says Novello, who says $68,000 to $72,000 is closer to a competitive rate.
That competitive rate should include increases for veteran officers. Novello said that another big problem for moral is that veteran cops are making the same as the younger ones.
He is also big on not putting recruits through the regular academy, but advocates using a yet-to-be-developed on-the-job training program he would like to create and implement to expedite the process.
Intermittently, he says, recruits go to the academy.
“We develop a new paradigm,” says Novello. “Because they go to the academy, we cover the cost, then they leave.”
He would also like to see the city ask recruits who get academy training to sign a commitment that if they decide to leave, they or their new employers pay Dallas training costs back to the city on a gradual basis.
“Policing in America is a paradigm built on consent. Consent means do you trust me to do the job with honor?” says Novello, noting that New York City was able to restore its police department to one of the world’s finest. “Sadly we are morphing into a policing model based on power.”
Novello will talk more about that with retired Waco police officer Stan Mason, another vocal former cop who has called out police violence against Black people, racism, and supports former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel in protest during the National Anthem before games.