Retired Dallas police chief’s message for UT grads: Public service is worth it

Dallas police chief David Brown, front, and Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings, rear, talk with the media during a news conference, Friday, July 8, 2016, in Dallas. Snipers opened fire on police officers in the heart of Dallas Thursday night, during protests over two recent fatal police shootings of black men. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The anticipation has been rising since September of 2016 when David Brown accepted the invitation to speak at the University of Texas at Austin spring commencement.

On Saturday morning, the former Dallas police chief said he was ready to share a message with graduates Saturday night about service.

“Public service is worth it, it’s worth the controversies, it’s worth many of the challenges and contradictions, it’s worth not being appreciated for the great work you’re doing and the sacrifice you make because our democracy demands it,” said Brown.

There was no advance copy of Brown’s speech, university officials said he delivered the speech Saturday night from his own notes, but KXAN got a chance to talk to the former Dallas police chief beforehand for some insight.

Brown said that he would issue a challenge to graduates and tell them, “The world needs you because the world needs changing. I encourage you to continue your education in many ways in relation to people and maybe circumstances that are different than your environment.”

The UT alum retired in October of last year from the Dallas Police Department where he served 33 years and lead the department through one of the city’s darkest days on July 7, 2016. A mentally ill gunman killed five police officers on the streets of downtown Dallas.

“You never think anything good can come out of a tragedy, but people appreciate the way I tried to maintain my professionalism and really be candid with the public about all of the challenges related to law enforcement.”

Many wonder if Brown, who has been controversially outspoken about mental health as it relates to policing and use of force reform, will touch on the tragedy that struck the forty acres on May 1, 2017. The mental state of a UT student accused of going on a stabbing rampage, killing one and injuring three others, has been the focus of investigators and attorneys assigned to the case.

When introduced for his speech, UT President Gregory Fenves said that, like Brown, the university has seen its share of tragedies in the past year.

Brown attended the University of Texas at Austin, but never got the chance to walk across the graduation stage. He left his senior year when the crack cocaine epidemic hit his old Dallas neighborhood in Oak Cliff.

“Many of my friends got hooked on crack in 1982-83 … I was so concerned about my old neighborhood,” said Brown. “I left school and joined the Dallas Police Department to be a part of the solution in combating crime and misconduct in my neighborhood.”

More than three decades later, Brown said he is humbled by the university’s recognition of that decision.

“I put public service above my own personal benefit and this university appreciated that,” said Brown. “I never thought that anyone would notice.”

Before graduation, KXAN also spoke with student body president Kevin Helgren who said the past year was a difficult one as Haruka Weiser was murdered on campus just two days after he took office.

‘”Haruka’s murder certainly set the tone for my time in office, it forced us to think about campus safety and security measures that we do, or did not have in place,” said Helgren. “But, on a more qualitative note and on a brighter note, it truly does demonstrate our communities willingness to come together and lean on one another during these really terrible times.”

Helgren said although both tragedies were a big part of every student on campus, he chose not to add a section about them into the speech. “They both would have graduated with the class of 2019 and I didn’t want, as a representative of the class of 2017 to strip the class of 2019 any sort of opportunity.”

Students graduate from UT-Austin at spring 2017 commencement. (KXAN Photo)
Students graduate from UT-Austin at spring 2017 commencement. (KXAN Photo)

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