ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Dallas Police Chief David Brown announced his retirement today. After 33 years on the force, he'll step down in October. Brown's leadership has been praised widely, especially after five of his officers were killed by a gunman in July. They'd been protecting a crowd assembled to protest the killings of black men by police. Here's what Brown said at the time.
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CHIEF DAVID BROWN: We are not going to let a coward who would ambush police officers change our democracy. We're not going to do it. Our city, our country is better than that.
SIEGEL: NPR's Wade Goodwyn covered the tragedy that night and joins us now. And Wade, does Chief Brown's announcement of his retirement come as a surprise?
WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Yes and No. The ambush of the police department was terribly traumatizing for Dallas - the worst moment for the city since President Kennedy was assassinated. So you can imagine the emotional cost to the police department and to Chief Brown. His anguish was evident the next day.
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BROWN: We're hurting. Our profession is hurting. We are heartbroken. All I know is that this must stop, this divisiveness between our police and our citizens.
GOODWYN: The murders, the funerals, the wounded officers - I'm sure it's taken a toll. And even before the ambush, Brown was struggling with an underfunded department, officers who had been leaving in large numbers. They're taking better-paying jobs with suburban police departments in Fort Worth.
And this is at the same time the chief was trying to put more officers back on the street for community policing, so he was dragging veteran officers back into patrol duty, and it wasn't making him very popular. And all these issues, all these problems remain. I think he's obviously ready to let someone else take a shot at it.
SIEGEL: Chief Brown also had suffered a personal tragedy before the ambush of his officers this summer. It was a terrible incident involving his son.
GOODWYN: That's right. It was in 2010 after Brown had just taken the reins as police chief. And that's when his son who struggled mightily with mental illness appeared to have a psychotic episode. And he shot and killed a man, then killed a Lancaster, Texas, police officer. Then he himself was killed by the police.
And you might think this would be a terrible humiliation for a brand new African-American police chief, but Brown handled it with great dignity, personally visiting and apologizing to the families of the men his son had murdered. And there they all were, grieving together. It was very sad.
SIEGEL: Wade, did Chief David Brown explain why he's stepping away today?
GOODWYN: He didn't. He's declining interview requests, and he is going to hold a press conference after the Labor Day holiday. It's too early to know yet, but it's possible that one enduring legacy is going to be this challenge he offered right after the ambush of his officers. In a press conference, Brown reached out to the young people who had marched in that protest, and he invited them to join the department.
He said, I'll put you in your own neighborhoods, and we'll help you change the very things you're protesting about. And in response, there came this huge surge in applications - dozens of young people, all colors, applying every day for weeks. I think that the city will be appreciative when the time comes. The chief worked his way up through the ranks for 33 years - Dallas police officer start to finish. How about that for old school?
SIEGEL: OK. That's NPR's Wade Goodwyn. Thanks, Wade.
GOODWYN: It's my pleasure.
SIEGEL: We're talking about today's announcement that Dallas Police Chief David Brown is retiring. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.