Bolton, Terrell D. 1959(?)–
Terrell D. Bolton 1959(?)–
Terrell Bolton made history in 1999 when he was named police chief of Dallas, Texas. Not only was he the city’s first African American chief, but he was also selected from within the department’s ranks. The poor, African American child from segregation-era Mississippi had grown up to assume leadership of a police department that is sworn to protect the citizens of Dallas. Bolton faced rising crime and festering racial problems in the city, and the public had high expectations of him. He wasted no time in earning their support.
It’s a testament to his upbringing that Bolton would become the first African American police chief of Dallas. He grew up in a four-room, cinder-block house on the poor side of a rural southeast Mississippi town called Richton. His neighborhood was separated from the richer white neighborhood by shabby storefronts. Bolton watched the Ku Klux Klan march down Main Street and, until integration efforts swept the south, went to a segregated school. He also snuck drinks from the town’s whites-only drinking fountains. “When nobody was looking, I’d take a little swig,” he told the Dallas Morning News. “Let me tell you, it tasted all the same.”
Bolton’s father was a “junkman” who salvaged scrap metal, and his mother cleaned houses to supplement the government assistance that the family of ten received. The Boltons were the poorest family in Richton. However, the family was very close-knit. “We were raised in a Christian home with very good work ethics,” Dr. Vickie Bolton Neal, the chief’s sister and a Dallas Public Schools psychologist told the Dallas Morning News. “My mother constantly motivated us. She would tell us we could do anything.” The children had chores to do and got good grades. Their parent’s motivation paid off. All of the Bolton children became overachievers—they grew up to include two health care executives, a psychologist, and four law enforcement leaders. “Public service was another thing,” Neal continued in the Dallas Morning News. “My parents and my grandmother taught us to always help others.”
Bolton decided to pursue a career in law enforcement
At a Glance…
Born c. 1959 in Richton, MS; divorced 1980; married to Glenda, 1983; children: Terrell Jr., two daughters. Education: Jackson State University, bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, 1980; graduate, Federal Bureau of Investigations National Academy, Quantico, Virginia.
Career: Dallas Police Department; patrol officer, 1980–84; sergeant 1984–88; depuiychief, 1988–91, assistant chief, 1991–99; police chief, 1999-.
Addresses: Office— Dallas Police Department 2014 Main St., Rm. 506, Dallas, TX 75201.
at a young age. At the age of six, while riding in the back of his father’s truck, he was shot in the head by someone firing a pellet gun. Bolton’s father went straight to the police department to file a report. However, as an African American in the south, his report fell on deaf ears. No one was arrested or charged for the shooting. “I told myself that day that if I ever went into law enforcement, I would treat everyone equally,” Bolton told the Dallas Morning News. “And that’s what I have done throughout my career.” He “could’ve gone the other way,” he continued, “But I’m a testimony to the strong influences of love, family, and hard work.” Bolton’s coworkers agree. “He treats everybody like they’re his equal,” Deborah Joseph, the chief’s secretary, said in the Dallas Morning News. “He’s not a big chief.”
Known for his talents as a drummer and basketball player in high school, and for his “robot dance” at school football games, Bolton went on to Jackson State University in nearby Hattiesburg. While still in college, Bolton was recruited by the Dallas Police Department. He took the job in 1980, leaving his wife of two years and an infant son, Terrell Jr., behind. Although Bolton divorced his wife, he maintained a relationship with his son. In 1983, he married his second wife, Glenda, and they had two daughters.
Bolton rose quickly through the ranks in the Dallas Police Department. He was made sergeant within four years, deputy chief in four more, and assistant chief three years after that, in 1991. He was offered a position as police chief in Jackson, Mississippi, but turned it down. He also established a strong bond with the former chief, Ben Click. Click believed that Bolton was the right choice as his replacement. He told the Dallas Morning News, “Because of the black-white issues that have plagued Dallas throughout its history, this is a great move. Yet there are other qualities he [Bolton] brings.”
Chief Click announced his retirement in August of 1999. Two weeks later, Dallas City Manager Ted Benavides named Bolton to the position. There were rumblings that Benavides had made a hasty decision. Also, there were three higher-ranking officers who were bypassed, as well as a deputy chief. “I totally respect the manager’s decision,” Chief Robert Jackson, one of the higher-ranking officers, said in the Dallas Morning News.
Crime statistics were beginning to rise before Bolton was named chief. About a decade before he took office, race relations in Dallas were at an all-time low. After a series of controversial police shootings of African Americans, police supporters and community activists were pitted against each other. It came to a head when, during an incident in downtown Dallas, a crowd was accused of inciting a mentally unstable African American to shoot a police officer in 1998. In addition to his crime fighting responsibilities, Bolton was charged with calming racial tensions within the city.
Almost immediately after his appointment, Bolton made drastic changes to his command staff. These changes drew strong public criticism. “What I did initially with the administration, I had to do that early and get that over with,” Bolton said in the Dallas Morning News. “I knew I had a department that was responding slowly to calls for service, and I knew we had property crime increases throughout the city. I have to not worry about my popularity from day to day and do what I was sworn to do—to make this city as safe as I can make it.” Despite the criticism, department response times improved 20 percent. By March of 2000, crime in Dallas was down three percent from the same time in 1999. Bolton assigned an ongoing police presence to a community that had complained about the crime problems associated with the topless dance clubs in their neighborhood. After demands to the Dallas police to do something about the situation had gone unheeded for years, Bolton’s quick action was applauded. Linda Neal, a resident in one of the affected areas, told the Dallas Morning News that Bolton “responded very well. Not just with the words that people want to hear, but by fulfilling what they told us. That impresses people in the long run.”
In January of 2000, Bolton launched a crime-fighting plan called Initiative 2000. The plan assigned specific patrol divisions to particular beats. These patrols targeted teen curfew violators, prostitution, drug transactions, gangs, car break-ins, and apartment-complex burglaries, among other problems. When officers weren’t on a case, they were encouraged to talk to residents and shop owners in order to better understand neighborhood concerns. When a particular problem was reported—a rash of car break-ins in a neighborhood, for example—a team was assigned immediately to address the matter. “We are going to keep focused and sustain our momentum,” Bolton said about Initiative 2000 in the Dallas Morning News. “We want the criminal element to know that we have more officers out there and we’re going to make a difference.” Although his predecessor was chief for only six years, Bolton planned to remain on the job for 20 years. “I plan to buy burial plots in Dallas,” he told the Dallas Morning News.
Dallas Morning News, August 21, 1999, p. 1A; August 25, 1999, p. 19A; August 29, 1999, p. 1A; March 16, 2000, p. 21A; April 16, 2000, p. 1A.
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