Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot defended his recent decision to stop prosecuting certain quality-of-life crimes over the objections of members of the Dallas City Council's Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee on Monday. The reforms, Creuzot said, are meant to make Dallas a safer, more equitable city, not to enable those who commit low-level offenses, as critics of the new policies have accused Creuzot of doing.
Following an April 11 memo issued by the district attorney, Creuzot's office will no longer prosecute those busted for marijuana possession for the first time, those caught with just a trace amount of drugs or misdemeanor criminal trespass cases that do not involve someone trespassing on residential property. Most controversially, Creuzot also plans to decline prosecuting anyone caught stealing $750 or less worth of necessary personal items, like baby formula, diapers or food.
"What we are focusing on is not on processing cases, it’s on reducing recidivism and reducing cost and we're doing so based on data and research," Creuzot told the committee. "What we intend to do is to make a safer city."
Everyone from Dallas' police unions to state officials like Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton have criticized Creuzot for his changes, charging him with everything from giving criminals a license to steal to stereotyping the poor as criminals.
"Reform is one thing," Abbott and Paxton said to Creuzot in an April 18 letter. "Actions that abandon the rule of law and that could promote lawlessness are altogether different."
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Abbott, Paxton and Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata have accused Creuzot of trying to usurp Texas' legislative process.
"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 last week. "I think you get on a very, very slippery slope when you start to legislate from the bench."
Monday, City Council member Adam McGough echoed another of Mata's criticisms, challenging Creuzot on his failure to consult with DPD on the new policies. Creuzot said he'd had a meeting with the department over everything in his reform package except the theft proposal, which he admitted hampered rolling out the new policies.
"Let me apologize, I can't apologize enough publicly. The way this was written was confusing and totally my fault," Creuzot said. "This confusion and lack of understanding — (that's something) I'm going to take personal responsibility for."