DALLAS — In 1971, when Ulysha Renee Hall was just 6 months old, her father, a 27-year old Detroit police officer, was murdered while working a gambling and prostitution case.
So when Hall decided to pursue a career in law enforcement, her mother wasn’t exactly thrilled. Recounting her mother’s reaction when she broke the news to her, Hall said, “I don’t know if you’re familiar with Fred Sanford [of the 1970s hit TV show Sanford and Son] when he used to ask Lamont [his son], ‘Are you crazy?!’ ”
Hall had all of her faculties about her. And after working for more than 18 years with the Detroit Police Department, on Sept. 5 she started her new job as the chief of police in Dallas.
Although Hall’s decision to pursue law enforcement was met with much trepidation by her mother, she eventually warmed to the idea.
“She wasn’t happy, initially,” Hall said. “But she quickly got on board, and she realized that it was something that at that time I had decided to do and made a decision to go forward with.
“So she realized that it was a calling and she embraced it. Right now, she’s just truly, truly supportive of everything that I want to do and she’s proud of where I stand today, and so I’m excited.”
Another reason for that excitement is that Hall is the first woman named the chief of the Dallas Police Department in the department’s 136-year history. And, along with Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson, the top three law enforcement jobs in Dallas County are all held by women from racial or ethnic minorities.
Hall and Johnson are both African-American, and Valdez is Latina.
Valdez was quick to offer some advice to Hall.
“My best advice for her right now is take your time,” Valdez said. “One of my favorite phrases when I first came here — because everybody was trying to get you to do this, do that, do it quickly, how would you change this, how would you change that — so one of my best advice is I’d rather do it right than quick.
“She needs to take her time and assess the situation and then find the best method to go act. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Thirteen years ago when I started, I was the first female sheriff, and I’m the only female Hispanic sheriff in the United States. So everybody’s going to come at you from every direction, every group, and they all want you to come to their function and they all want you to do things a certain way.”
Johnson’s advice to Hall is to become the godsend for the city of Dallas that Johnson knows Hall will become.
“She knows what she’s doing, and she’s been doing it up in Detroit, so I would say don’t change a thing,” said Johnson, who became Dallas County’s district attorney in January. “You’ve already got it down pat.
“Obviously, Detroit is Detroit and Dallas is Dallas, but people are people, and when you really look all over the country, you’ve got hurting people all over the country, and we kind of hurt the same way. But she’s a smart woman, she’s intelligent, she’s articulate, and I am just delighted that she chose Dallas because I know she had some other options.”
Hall doesn’t feel any added pressure taking over a position that across the country has been dominated by men. But she knows she’s a role model for women who want to become a chief of police.
“I’m excited about what this means for other women in law enforcement, but I don’t feel any pressure because of my gender,” Hall said. “I was hired because of my ability, so I’m standing on that.
“I think the one thing that every police chief wants to be, and that’s successful. You want to make sure that you’re addressing the concerns of the community and that you’re taking care of your officers. So that’s the level of pressure that I have — not being a woman.”
Hall earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at Grambling State University and a master’s degree in security administration and intelligence analysis at the University of Detroit Mercy.
Before taking over the top cop spot in Dallas, Hall had served as the deputy chief of police in Detroit since May 2014.
Hall is a huge advocate of neighborhood policing. Detroit’s crime rate saw a double-digit reduction for three straight years in Hall’s neighborhood policing bureau.
Hall, who will be paid $225,000 per year, also plans to establish a citizens advisory board in Dallas.
“Citizen advisory boards are beneficial for the community,” the 46-year old Hall said. “What they’ll do is they’ll allow the deputy chief, the major of each substation, to go out to solicit community members who want to be a part of the board, and they’ll serve in terms of six months to a year. It’ll totally be up to the individual majors and deputy chiefs, and what they’ll do is that community group will come and give information relative to crime, community issues, and they will work alongside of each other in addressing those concerns.
“What’s important is that they’re able to hold that particular command staff accountable for those issues. When they say that there’s a high volume of speeders or hand-to-hand drug trafficking, or whatever issue is in that particular community, then they’re meeting every month or biweekly with that command staff along with the tenants, police officers who are responsible for that area, and they’re saying, ‘You’re not addressing this issue’ or ‘We’re being really successful in this area, let’s duplicate that process.’ So it gives them a one-on-one relationship with the individuals who patrol their areas.”
While those parameters were paramount to Hall’s success in Detroit, she also is stepping into a department that has low morale because of mass departures and/or retirements, as well as a controversial pension fund that has flustered officers.
“I think there’s some challenges that when you look at them as a whole, morale is an issue for the Police Department, and pensions,” Hall said. “But I think before we can do all of that we do have to address morale.
“In order for the officers to do the best job that they can be able to do in the community, they have to be whole: mind, body and spirit. I would just say morale would be first, community engagement, hiring more officers and retaining those officers that we hire. And of course, crime fighting is always side-by-side and simultaneous with each and everything that we do.”
Hall replaces David Brown, who left the department last October and now is a contributor for ABC News.
“I talked to him once I was selected for the job,” Hall said. “He just gave me some words of wisdom, some encouragement, and he’s a wonderful guy and I truly, truly respect his leadership.”
Johnson has already gone out to dinner with Hall several times. And they have a kinship, as they’re both members of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
“I think she’s going to be phenomenal,” Johnson said. “We’re going to truly get along so, so well. We’ve got some of the same ideas in terms of what can we do to help the community because she is concerned about community policing and I’m concerned about community prosecution.
“The politics may be different, but the issues are the same, regardless of where we go in this country. So I just say to her you’ve got it, you’ve been practicing it up there in Detroit. Just take what you know and bring it here, and let’s make a difference.”
Johnson isn’t sure whether Hall being the first female chief of police in Dallas will be uncomfortable for some among the rank and file.
“So the question is whether or not the people under her, if she can pull all the people together to be able to accept that and give her support, and accept some of the ideas she has and her approach to policing,” Johnson said. “Anytime you bring something new to a company or to a situation, you’ve got some people who’s going to try to buck it, and it’s just a question of getting over the bucking and just pressing and making it happen because sometimes you’ve just got to press through it.
“But you know something, she’s a tough cookie. She’s a tough cookie, she’s going to do it, she’s got the stamina, she’s got the smarts, she’s got the intellect. And what I love about her, too, is she’s a God-fearing woman, and I can identify with that. And because she has strong faith, she’s going to have a whole lot of people backing her.”