Panelists Call for Changes to Dallas' Police Budget

David Lozano, art director of Cara Mia Theatre goes over the city budget.
David Lozano, art director of Cara Mia Theatre goes over the city budget. Jacob Vaughn
Amid weeks of demonstrations sparked by the death of George Floyd, a coalition of community activists and faith leaders who marched through the streets of Dallas is now looking to promote “policies to support the protest.”

One of the coalition’s main goals is to reallocate police funding into historically underfunded communities, said David Lozano, executive artistic director at the Cara Mia Theatre.

Activists with the coalition met online for a Q&A Thursday evening hosted by Cara Mia. They discussed how a 10-point plan they released in June could, if implemented, create positive change in these underfunded communities.

Their 10-point plan is aimed at transforming Dallas policing. It has since been presented to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, police Chief U. Renee Hall and city manager T.C. Broadnax.

The plan is broken up into two sections: One concerns the police budget and investing in communities, and another deals with increased public safety and accountability for law enforcement. Kristian Hernandez with Our City Our Future, one of the co-signing organizations of the plan, said communities in need have been defunded.

Per the directives, Hernandez said money should be reallocated from the Dallas Police Department's budget into alternatives to police response, employment counselors, social workers and other services that will positively impact communities. Reducing the scope of policing is what's needed in Dallas, Hernandez said, and that starts with reallocating DPD's budget.

Lozano pulled up DPD's budget, which runs upward of $500 million, and compared it to other pieces of the city budget wuch as Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization (a little more than $3 million), the Office of Arts and Culture ($20 million) and libraries ($33 million). Lozano said the city's priorities are evident when looking at its budget.

"What I see is that our communities have not just been underfunded, I would say deprived of fundamental resources." - David Lozano

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"What I see is that our communities have not just been underfunded, I would say deprived of fundamental resources," Lozano said.

Mayra Fierro from Metro Dallas Youth Committee said over-policing also affects youth experiencing homelessness, whom her organization seeks to help. Runaway laws and curfew ordinances often criminalize youth who are trying to escape abuse and neglect. If funding were available, Fierro said curfew citation data could be used to organize outreach programs in targeted areas that would help connect youths to the resources they need. 

By over-investing in policing, cities are dehumanizing communities, said Amber Baylor from Texas A&M University School of Law. This works in tandem with over-criminalizing, Baylor said. 

The coalition that authored the plan also has ideas for how policing should be conducted. A lot of it pertains to the use of deadly force. They've laid out guidelines for when officers should be allowed to use their firearms and what should take place after an officer is involved in a use-of-deadly-force incident. They also ask that the police department and district attorney review all fatal police shootings from 2000 to 2018.

Two of the points in the plan draw a spotlight on prison populations during the COVID-19 pandemic and the needs of marginalized populations.

The authors call on the Dallas County Sheriff's Department and the Dallas County Commissioners Court to release people who have the coronavirus or are more susceptible to it. Pointing out that Dallas leads the nation in violence against transgender people, they also ask that DPD and the sheriff's department document their interactions with disenfranchised members of the community

"We've been so beaten down into thinking that these aren't things that are attainable," Hernandez said. "We've often been put up with the excuse [of] 'Well, there's not enough money.' Well, 60% of the budget disagrees."

The panelists ended the discussion by encouraging viewers to send their 10-point plan to Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson and the City Council.

"We look forward to a transformed Dallas after this budget season," Lozano said. 
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn