Taking a page from former Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings' preferred form of leadership, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson took his first swing at addressing the spate of high-profile murders that have shaken his city in 2019, announcing Monday that he's created a civilian task force to look into violent crime in the city.
Johnson singled out last week's killing of 9-year-old Brandoniya Bennett as an impetus for the task force.
"Today, I’m creating a new task force — my first since taking office nine weeks ago — called the Mayor’s Task Force on Safe Communities. Its mission will be to seek holistic and data-driven solutions for communities disproportionately affected by violent crime," Johnson said. "These solutions should not rely exclusively on law enforcement."
Dallas already asks its police to do too much, Johnson said, paraphrasing former Dallas Police Department Chief David Brown.
"Police have to be social workers. They have to deal with mental health and drug addiction and cycles of abuse. And we’ve asked law enforcement to do all of these things in an environment where illegal guns are far too easy for criminals to obtain," Johnson said. "We’ll never have enough police officers to remedy all that ails our city and to prevent all violent crime. We’ve always known this to be true. We’ve long talked about the need for more programs for our youth. We’ve long talked about breaking cycles of poverty to keep our youth focused on a future that will never include a single minute behind bars."
What Dallas hasn't focused on enough, according to the mayor, is "data and best practices." Johnson wants his task force — he named three co-chairs Monday and said he'll fill in the committee soon — to look into the data that's out there, "engage with key stakeholders," and come up with specific recommendations for the city to implement — a set of noble, if not exactly original, goals.
One of Johnson's co-chairs, community activist Rene Martinez, said in a prepared statement that Dallas must unify to address its crime problem.
“I have seen over many years the ups and downs of crime in Dallas over many decades. I have always tried to be part of the solution," Martinez said. "In my lifetime of community public service and leadership, I have learned how much we can accomplish when we unite around a cause. So I’m honored that the mayor has asked me to once again serve my community by helping make Dallas a safer place to live in."
Johnson told reporters at the news conference that he did not speak with Dallas Police Department Chief U. Renee Hall before announcing the task force. Johnson hasn't spoken with the chief since she went on medical leave in July, he said.
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