By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Dallas two-step: Buzz has been a crime victim four times in Dallas: one car break-in, two break-ins of a shed and one home burglary that cleaned us out. The number of times Dallas police have been at our house? Zero. Now, Buzz is a realist, so we understand that the DPD isn't going to send out a crack detective and a team of forensic techs to get our DVD player back. (Besides, we'd rather not have to explain to any cops what that bong is doing on the kitchen table. "Gosh, officer, the burglars must have left that there.")
So, after the big home burglary, we just called a civilian operator, who gave us a case number to file with an insurance claim and offered to send an officer over if we wanted, in four or five hours. "Will that help?" we asked. "Meh," said the operator.
That's pretty much how we feel about the city council's decision to hire 200 additional police officers despite facing draconian cuts caused by a $190 million budget shortfall. Meh. Just how will that improve Buzz's quality of life as opposed to more library hours, mowed parks and frequent trash collection? (Yes. It is all about Buzz.)
Since taking his job in 2004, police Chief David Kunkle has been moving sworn officers out of jobs that could be easily and cheaply filled by civilians at the department, "civilianizing" about 160 positions. Now the city is considering laying off 191 civilians at the department—presumably civilians like the operator who gave us the number we needed to get our insurance claim.
Isn't that just going to be the usual one step forward, one step back sort of dance we've come to know and love from City Hall, as the new cops are asked to do the jobs their cheaper civilian co-workers used to do?
"It's not an equal swap," Kunkle says. "There's some things that we've historically done that we're probably going to quit doing. At the same time, we're going to increase the number of officers on the streets, improve response times, hopefully reduce crime and create a safer public place."
City manager Mary Suhm says while some people may fear sworn officers will be moved into the vacated civilian positions at some point, that's not the intent of the job cuts. The layoffs aim to save money by reducing or eliminating some services and lowering expectations in other areas.
"Things are going to have to be done less, slower or less efficient," she says. "There's not a choice here."
Slower services from City Hall. Those are some scary words, considering the source.