After joining the Dallas Police Department in 1983, Brown worked in patrol divisions, SWAT, and internal affairs. He became first assistant chief of police in 2005; in 2007–08, he served as assistant city manager. He was appointed police chief in April 2010 and sworn into office on May 4, 2010.
The New York Times reported that Brown has "earned a national reputation as a progressive leader whose top priority is improving relations and reducing distrust between the police department and the city’s minority residents." He has advocated reducing the use of force and discouraged chasing suspects in cars and even by foot, since such chases often lead to fatalities. According to published reporting, he also has a reputation as a "tough boss" and has fought with the local police union over his emphasis on less-confrontational strategies and his willingness to fire officers, often publicly. He has also sought to increase transparency by equipping officers with body cameras and sought to reform training on the use of lethal force. It has also been reported that some African American residents still feel they are subject to discrimination by the police.
Brown was chief during the 2016 shooting of Dallas police officers that killed five police officers and injured nine others and two civilians. He made the choice to use C-4 explosive delivered by a robot to kill the shooter, Micah Xavier Johnson, who was heavily armed and secured behind a brick corner with no safe way for police to rush Johnson or reach him with a sniper. The killing of Johnson was the first time in United States history a robot was used by police to deliver lethal force against a suspect.
On September 1, 2016, Brown announced that he will be retiring from the Dallas Police Department on October 22, 2016. Despite being the longest serving police chief in recent decades, he gave no reason for his retirement only about 7 weeks after the Dallas police shootings, but the mayor and city manager both said that he was not forced out of office. Brown subsequently moved up his retirement date to October 4, 2016 to better coordinate dates with an upcoming pension board meeting. As of January 7, 2017 Brown is currently serving as a news consultant for ABC News and recently gave insight to the security surrounding the Ft. Lauderdale Airport Shooting.
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