Over the next couple of weeks, as Gov. Greg Abbott loosens Texas' statewide coronavirus restrictions and Dallas' city and county orders fall away or turn into guidelines, it's going to be on residents themselves, in part, to stay safe from COVID-19. As it turns out, visitors to Dallas' parks and trails have been getting good practice — doing the right thing without facing consequences — over the last couple of weeks.
According to Dallas city staff and the Dallas Police Department, officers have yet to issue a single citation to a group or individual for violating city orders prohibiting large gatherings and people generally being too close together at Dallas' parks.
Since April 14, the department has responded to more than 80 calls about illegal gatherings. Each time, residents have done what the cops said.
"Our biggest concern is compliance — voluntary compliance," Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall said. "Education and voluntary compliance is really what we're pushing and (officers) have seen that over and over again. When they show up, people normally show up and/or follow the rules after they know what they are."
Hall said the department is handing out about 15,000 masks each week to officers coming in contact with general public. DPD's biggest goal, she said, is keeping Dallas residents and DPD officers safe. Officers are avoiding direct contact with the public as much as possible.
"We're not pushing (unnecessary contact with residents)," Hall said, "and making sure that officers know that (when) they interact with someone, that it's absolutely necessary for the safety and that community member."
Rather than enforcement, the city continues to try and find ways to convince residents to keep their distance voluntarily. In order to alleviate crowding on the Katy Trail, Dallas has begun limiting access on weekends by last name — A-L gets Thursday and Saturday, while M-Z gets Friday and Sunday. Thursday, Dallas City Council member Cara Mendelsohn pitched a new policy to city staff to lessen the burden on both cops and residents, one the Observer is tempted to get behind.
"Maybe instead of limiting the city of Dallas residents use of the Katy Trail, we should limit access for those who don't live in the city of Dallas," Mendelsohn said. "If you're in Highland Park, you go walk your neighborhood."
"Parkies out of our parks" has a nice ring to it.