Dallas Officials Could Tighten Protest Rules

Dallas officials made clear Friday that the fatal shooting of five law enforcement officers during a downtown rally will not silence future demonstrations. But both signaled that future protest participants may see new safeguards.

Dallas Police respond to a sniper attack at a Black Lives Matter rally in downtown Dallas.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional comment.

DALLAS — Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Police Chief David Brown made clear on Friday that the fatal shooting of five law enforcement officers during a downtown rally will not silence future demonstrations in the city.

But both signaled that future protest participants may see additional safeguards.

"From a policy standpoint, we believe in the right to protest peacefully, and these were peaceful protests until this happened," Rawlings said at a news conference the morning after Thursday night's sniper attack. "But we also have to believe in keeping our police officers safe. And I know I'm going to redouble my efforts on that."

Brown, whose department lost four of the five officers killed in the downtown shooting, insisted that freedom of expression is a tenet held dear by all, including police. 

"Police officers are guardians of this great democracy," Brown said. "We won't militarize our policing standards. But we will do it in a much safer way every time."

The protest held in downtown late Thursday was a quickly assembled affair, one fueled via social media by local empathy for police shooting victims in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Falcon Heights, Minnesota.

Dallas police had enough notice of it to assign an adequate number of officers, stationing them along a march route and at a rally point, where speakers called for more policing reforms.

After the speakers finished, shots rang out at about 8:58 p.m. Eleven officers were shot. Of those, five — four from the Dallas Police Department and one from the Dallas Area Rapid Transit authority — were reported killed.

State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, attended the rally but left downtown just minutes before the shooting began.

"It was a peaceful rally," West said. Before the shooting began, sending hundreds for cover, local community members were discussing meeting next week to discuss systemic change for policing in light of the shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Minneapolis.

West said on Friday that whatever reforms are put in place for protests, they should not erode constitutional freedoms that give Americans the right to assemble.

"We must make certain there are ways to provide additional safety for police officers to protect citizens," he said.

Rawlings noted that at times, residents are quick to criticize the chief when they believe police take extra precautions before an event. He said perhaps the public needs to take a step back.

"If we're all being critical of those things, just think about today," he said. 

Other police departments around the state are also revisiting their public protest policies in wake of the shooting in Dallas.

“In light of this event, there will be discussion on how we can make these types of events safer for both the individuals and the officers involved,” San Antonio Police Officer Doug Greene wrote in an email. He said no policy changes have been implemented yet.

At a press conference in Houston, interim Chief of Police Martha Montalvo said officers have always had great communication with protest organizers and they plan to continue that.

But Montalvo left the door open to altering the department’s policies, saying “I can’t say we’re not going to change.”

The police department in Forth Worth said it is on alert after the shooting in its neighboring city, but does not plan to changes its policies.

Neither does the Austin police department. Police Chief Art Acevedo said the department will continue its policy of having officers in elevated positions to protect protesters below.

“We’ve always put people on the high ground,” he said at a press conference. “If you don’t have assets up high, then you’re at a disadvantage.”

Aneri Pattani contributed to this report.

For more on this story, learn more about how Dallas police used a robot to kill a suspect for the first time in the United States, how Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other Texas lawmakers are blaming Black Lives Matter for the shooting, and how some say Dallas police and community relations were improving before Thursday’s attack.