Copping out

In a move that seems to disregard citizen crime concerns and the complaints of the city's police union, the city of Dallas will turn down $2.85 million in federal funds for additional police officers.

Dallas was in line to get $5.25 million as its share of the federal Cops-Ahead program that was launched with the 1994 crime bill. The funds, intended to put 100,000 more officers on the nation's streets, would have meant 70 more cops in Dallas.

But on October 11, the City Council is expected to accept only part of the funding--$2.4 million to hire 32 officers. The city staff, led by assistant city manager Levi Davis, has recommended the city turn down the remaining $2.85 million--enough to put another 38 officers on the street.

According to a Justice Department spokesman, Dallas' rejection of the funds is unprecedented for a large city.

Davis, through an assistant, referred questions about the issue to Mike Norwood, executive assistant director of the police department. "We had an allocation that we could request 70 officers, but we only wanted 32," says Norwood.

The city staff and police department officials want to reject the federal money, in part, because it is earmarked only for the hiring of community police officers, he says. Department and city officials, Norwood says, had determined that they could fulfill all their community policing needs with 32 new federally funded officers.

Community police officers spend the majority of their time in neighborhoods developing long-term, crime-preventing relationships with residents, Norwood says. They are expected to answer fewer specific calls for assistance and do not perform any formal detective work.

The department has already hired the 32 community police officers with the expectation of receiving the federal money. With some additional staff shifting, the department will have a full complement of 12 community police officers at each of its six substations.

Norwood says the staff also recommends rejecting the money because it requires the city to pay at least 25 percent of the new officers' salaries and benefits. That means the city would have to kick in $1.5 million over three years to get the extra $2.85 million in federal money--as well as pay for the new cops' equipment. And after three years, unless the program is renewed, the money would stop coming from Washington, he says. Then Dallas would have to pay 100 percent of those officers' salaries, Norwood said.

Ed Spencer, a spokesman for the department who returned a call placed to Police Chief Ben Click, concurred with Norwood's comments. "We're accepting what will get us to the complement of go beyond that represents more officers tied to that function than we need. And we have other needs," Spencer says.

But Glenn White, president of the Dallas Police Association and a senior corporal in the department, believes the just-say-no attitude to more police officers makes no sense. "What's their excuse?" White says of the city's refusal to accept the $2.85 million in federal law enforcement funds.

"They should take that money now because they're going to need it later," White says. "The problem is that they've fallen into a sense of false security with the drop in the crime rate."

White agrees that the department may have met its immediate needs for community police officers. But he believes that the city should have taken the money anyway, given the overall shortages in the police department--and the opportunity to hire extra cops at what amounts to one-quarter of the normal cost. White also says that the community officer job description is not so rigid that the additional officers could not be used for other duties.

The Dallas Police Department remains understaffed, in comparison to the hiring goals set by the City Council in 1988. The council's objective, never met, was to provide three officers for every 1,000 residents--a nationally accepted ratio for effective law enforcement. But the Dallas Police Department--with a total of 2,778 officers on the force now--has only 2.78 officers for every 1,000 residents. Those figures, which place the department 222 officers short of the council's goal, include police administrators who never answer crime calls or patrol the streets.

Past recruiting problems may provide another reason that the department may be gun-shy about hiring large numbers of officers over a short period. In 1994, the Dallas police department produced an in-house audit that suggested it had run into serious snags when it tried to recruit large numbers of new officers. The audit, ordered by Chief Click after a number of high-profile firings, focused on 86 officers who had entered the police academy since 1990, and subsequently had been disciplined. According to an account of the audit published a year ago in The Dallas Morning News, several candidates failed to meet minimum standards but were allowed to enter the academy anyway. They were then not eliminated or dealt with effectively in the training process, the report stated.

The federal Cops-Ahead program grew out of President Bill Clinton's pledge in his 1994 State of the Union address to put 100,000 new police officers on America's streets. The program, passed later that year with a comprehensive crime measure that authorized some $8.8 billion in federal spending for grants to local police and sheriff's departments--including Cops-Ahead--was designed to increase the number of police nationwide.

The Cops-Ahead program earmarks funds for cities like Dallas with a population of 50,000 or more. The program rules forbid participating city and state agencies to use the funds to replace monies already earmarked for the hiring of new officers.

Through the Cops-Ahead program, the federal government expects to issue some $225 million in grants. Since the program was announced, 632 law enforcement agencies nationwide have taken advantage of the funding to begin hiring and training some 4,600 officers.

Charles Miller, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, which is administering the program, says Dallas' decision to turn down a significant part of the federal money is unique. "Some other, smaller, communities have turned down the funds altogether because of the costs associated with them," Miller says. "But I don't recall any other instances where a city has adjusted downward the amount it expected to receive.

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Miriam Rozen
Contact: Miriam Rozen