Murders in Dallas are up and the Dallas Police Department has fallen short in trying to decrease the overall violent crime rate. While the mayor and the rest of the City Council argue about where to make appropriate cuts to improve public safety, there is one point of agreement: DPD needs more civilian employees to free up officers to do police work.
Mayor Eric Johnson’s controversial proposal to cut $6.5 million from some city staff salaries would allocate about $1.6 million toward hiring 50 civilian employees for DPD. A proposed amendment to the upcoming budget by council member Adam Bazaldua would cut about $7 million from police overtime and allocate $1.6 million to hiring 21 civilian employees for DPD.
Six councilmembers backed Bazaldua’s proposed amendment while the mayor garnered little to no support.
The consulting firm KPMG, which studied DPD’s staffing last year, also recommended the use of more civilian employees in the police department.
According to KPMG's report from the study, civilian employees only made up about 16% of DPD. That’s about 560 people and far fewer than other cities cited in the report for comparison. In Fort Worth, for example, about 25% of the police department’s employees are not sworn officers.
"The goal of (using civilian investigators) is increased efficiency — to relieve sworn investigators of the low-priority or less complex cases so that they can devote more time to solving felony crimes," the report says.
Since the KPMG report was released, nearly nothing has been done to push DPD toward more civilianization, council member Lee Kleinman says. "Basically, nothing has happened," he says. "There's been no progress."
He says that pressure from police associations and resistance from the ranks have kept the department from hiring more civilians. "Why wouldn't you want a cushy job every day if you're a sworn officer?" Kleinman asks.
But DPD isn't all to blame.
Kleinman pitched about 20 amendments to the proposed budget that would push the department toward hiring more civilians, but nearly all of them were were rejected.
Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata says there has been a lot of civilianization within the department since he joined about 15 years ago. But, in the lead up to and during The Great Recession, Mata says the department lost many civilian employees to budget cuts.
“The police department was asked to make cuts, and a large number of those came from civilianized positions,” Mata says. “That’s how we find ourselves in the issue now where we have so many administrative positions that are occupied by police officers.”
Bazaldua has criticized the department in recent budget talks for having 1,000 officers “sitting behind a desk.”
But Mata says a majority of those positions cannot be filled by civilians. Instead, Mata estimates that the department only has about 100-150 jobs that could be done by a civilian employee, and even some of those are problematic, he says.
“We need to make sure we’re not civilianizing positions just to civilianize,” Mata says. He says if civilian employees are put in the wrong place in DPD, it could affect the quality of investigations and turnover rate.
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When murders in Dallas surpassed 200 in 2019, the mayor ordered DPD Chief U. Reneé Hall to come up with a plan to reduce crime. One of the objectives in the department’s 2020 Violent Crime Reduction Plan is to increase the number of civilian positions by 5%, about 95 positions.
“The increased use of civilian positions to fill these roles will allow all ranks of sworn officers to be redeployed to areas in critical need,” the plan said.
Terrance Hopkins, president of the Black Police Association of Greater Dallas, says there are other ways the department is being civilianized. For example, DPD was able to reallocate 6,000 hours of police patrol time to emergency patrol operations by using city's online reporting system. The department has also been able to save on manpower through the RIGHT Care Program, which sends social workers on some mental health-related calls. The city manager has proposed to expand the program next year.
Kleinman says the opposition to civilianization is wasting money and officers' time.