Repealing verified response quickly rose to the top of Tom Leppert's to-do list shortly after he become mayor in June 2007. The controversial program required business owners to have someone at the scene of a burglar alarm to verify that a break-in had actually occurred before police would respond.
Not surprisingly, there were lots of folks opposed to the program because driving out to their businesses at night to confront a potentially armed intruder didn't sound so appealing.
The council by an 8-5 vote had approved verified response in December 2005 based on a suggestion from the council-appointed Commission on Productivity and Innovation, which aimed to improve efficiency at the Dallas Police Department since 97.2 percent of the more than 62,000 alarms in 2004 were false.
In '05 and when the council readdressed the issue in September 2007, then-Chief David Kunkle advocated for the program, citing a 45 percent decrease in burglar alarm calls and 0.6 percent decrease in business burglaries during its first year of implementation (March 1, 2006 through February 28, 2007).
Leppert, along with council member Ron Natinsky (who voted against it in '05) and others, took issue with Kunkle's position.
"While being supportive of the DPD and the chief, sometimes you have to listen to the public," Natinsky said, adding he received lots of email and letters from his constituents urging him to vote against it.
Since it's an issue where he clearly differed with Leppert and fellow mayoral candidate Natinsky, we asked Kunkle about it during our interview for last week's cover story. Like our item about Natinsky, there just wasn't enough space to cram this into the piece despite our compelling conversation at Kunkle's home near Lower Greenville.
One of the issues you clashed with the council on was verified response. Is that something you would want to bring back as mayor?
That's not quite true, Sam. It was actually the council that pushed verified response.
But when it was repealed you were against its removal. That's what I'm getting at.
You have to elaborate on that because I was there when it happened.
Well, sometimes what you see ... What happened with verified response is the council had a committee on productivity and innovation that they appointed. And that council-appointed committee came up with the idea of verified response.
When they approached me about it, I said, "You cannot sell the idea of verified response." Arlington had tried. Fort Worth had tried. Los Angeles had tried, along with other cities throughout the country.
Even if it's good public policy, its terrible politics is what I said. The council members said, "We're all supportive of it," so the council eventually approved verified response by 11-4, 10-5 or something like that. Then, when the mayoral and council elections came up the next time, it became an issue. I was told by a council member: "You have the votes for it to continue," and it didn't work out that way.
No, I wouldn't pursue verified response.
You wouldn't pursue it?
Even though at the time you were saying it was a good thing?
No, I said it was good public policy and bad politics. And we talked about the number of officers it would save.
You could make the argument that a burglar alarm is a private good, and if they go off, there's a 98 percent chance that it's going to be a call for police that's not a real call, and the private sector can better deal with that. But it's not a winning ... You can't sell that idea, and I wouldn't try.
What I'm hearing is you believe this is a good policy, but you don't want to push it because it's not good for you politically to do so.
No, not good for me politically. You can't get it passed. Any issue that's attributed to poor police response to burglar alarms is going to be blamed on verified response, even if it had nothing to do with it.
It probably shouldn't have been done the first time it happened in Dallas. I was a little surprised that it did because I had seen, like I said, in the immediate area both Arlington and Fort Worth had pursued it. In both cities there was an initial reaction by the committee that heard it: "This is a great idea. Let's take it to the full council." And then it became a very divisive issue that couldn't get moving forward.
The council at the time was supportive of verified response. The majority of them were.
But your job isn't to echo what the council says. Your job is to say what you think...
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I did, Sam.
I know. But you're saying at the time you thought it was good for the department to keep verified response.
No, I said it would save officers. I said from the very beginning: It may be good public policy, but it's bad politics. OK, then.
It came up a second time, and I said the same thing and talked about the ... I think at that time it went down by 10-5 or whatever it was.