To hear Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata tell it, Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot's new reforms — Creuzot's office will no longer prosecute certain misdemeanor theft cases or first-time marijuana offenses — stereotype poor people, rather than helping them out.
"I take great offense to saying that poor people just go out and steal," Mata said. "The people that will take advantage of this are the criminal element who will steal, steal, steal from every business until somebody tells them it's not OK to do it."
Creuzot's plan calls for not prosecuting anyone caught stealing "personal items" as long as those items aren't worth more than $750, the upper limit of Class B misdemeanor theft in Texas. Personal items, the district attorney said in a memo issued Wednesday, mean things like "necessary food, diapers and baby formula."
That definition, Mata and representatives of police associations throughout Dallas County said Thursday, isn't good enough.
"(Creuzot's memo) didn't give us a definition. We went from 'necessary items' to now 'personal necessary items,'" Mata said. "I can get you 10 people and they can give you 10 definitions of what they feel is personal. ... If someone is going and needs formula for their child, we're not going to put them in jail for that. Either we're going to find a way to get them that from the store through mediation or we will point them to a church or social services."
In an interview with the Observer's Jim Schutze earlier this week, Creuzot said his reforms are intended to stop crime before it happens.
“You go to the doctor and you have high blood pressure,” Creuzot told Schutze. “So what they’re going to do is address your needs, your risk profile, like diet, exercise, etc. It’s the same concept in criminal justice. Most of the time when you have somebody who’s hungry, putting them in jail is not going to remove the need for food or a job.”
Regardless of the district attorney's intent, Mata said, if Creuzot wants to change state law, he should do so as a lawmaker, not a prosecutor. Dallas residents and neighborhood associations are calling DPA, he said, because they don't like the changes.
"If there's something that needs to be changed legislatively, then he can run for a legislative office and change it in Austin for the whole greater good of the state of Texas," Mata said. "I think you get on a very, very slippery slope when you start to legislate from the bench."
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.