DALLAS - Officer Nick Novello worked his regular shift Saturday at the city’s central patrol station.
After a quick change into his civilian clothes, he headed off to an event you wouldn’t expect to find a cop in his off time: a downtown rally calling for the legalization of marijuana.
Not only did he attend, he was a featured speaker and an honored guest.
“I’m here because I support you,” Novello tells the boisterous crowd of several hundred in his gravelly New York accent.
For several years, the veteran police officer has been a vocal proponent of legalizing medical marijuana. He supports efforts to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
“Today government does whatever it wants to do and you and I have to ask permission to exercise our basic freedoms,” he tells the crowd. “I have a problem with that.”
Uniformed police officers looked on from afar. The officers pointedly did not intervene as people openly smoked marijuana in downtown Dallas during the rally and march.
Long a bur in the side of Dallas chiefs past and present, Novello refuses to remain silent even knowing it could cost him his job. A decade ago, he vocally spoke out about police officers who he believed were violating people’s civil rights.
More recently, he’s been outspoken about the department’s manpower shortage and how long police response times put 911 callers in danger.
Novello’s outspokenness has not gone unnoticed by the department. The department opened an internal investigation after he released a Youtube video in August calling on President Donald Trump to revamp the nation’s marijuana laws.
They opened a second investigation after he gave a News 8 reporter videos to post on Facebook about the response time crisis.
He had planned to retire in September. Novello delayed his retirement. He refuses to retire under investigation.
“Why I am I still employed because quite frankly they know I’m right,” Novello said.
Novello says about seven years ago, he underwent a spiritual awakening. He’s actively involved in Christian prison ministry.
He says the nation’s drug laws have disproportionately targeted minorities. He points out the hypocrisy that many politicians – Republicans and Democrats alike – have admitted to recreational marijuana use in their youth.
“To me I see this as a morale choice,” he says in an interview prior to the rally. “Let me pose this question to our city leaders what do you say to someone who has gotten out of jail after 20 years for cannabis when we have people in various other states becoming millionaires for the same behavior. How do you reconcile that?”
I asked Novello what he would do if he would do if he was on the job and encountered someone with a small amount of marijuana.
“Well you know that’s an interesting question,” he says. “I’d have a decision to make, wouldn’t I? … Let’s just say up to this point I’ve enforced the laws on the books.”
On Saturday, the crowd gathered just weeks before Dallas’ cite and release policy takes effect. Under the policy, people caught with small amounts of marijuana will be cited, their drugs confiscated and released rather than taken to jail. People arrested under the policy would still face the same criminal penalties.
“It’s still the criminalization of those we’ve sworn to protect,” he says.
Novello opposes the cite and release policy because it does not go far enough.
“Stand fast, I applaud you and I think you for your time today,” he tells the crowd, ending his short speech.
Novello vows never to be silenced. There’s no doubt that we’ll hear from him again.