Dallas police Chief U. Renee Hall sounded like a woman on the ropes Monday as she came before City Council's Public Safety Committee and did her best to deal with questions about Dallas' recent spike in homicides and other violent crime.
She told council members that the Texas Department of Public Safety was sending help. Special investigative units and patrol officers are coming, she said, to tackle gang, gun and drug crime in the city. In addition to working with DPS, Hall said, DPD plans to engage Dallas' high-crime communities, working with churches and other community organizations to keep those who might otherwise commit violent crimes off the streets with programs like the DPD summer jobs initiative.
Hall had plans to counter a homicide spike that's set Dallas on a path to reach its highest number of homicides in more than a decade. The city is on pace for 228 killings this year, Hall said, but she didn't have the thing the committee seemed to want more than anything: an explanation for why this is happening.
"When we have homicides that are related to gang or drug activity, those are the kind of things that we can police," Hall said, responding to a question from council member Casey Thomas about whether it's even possible to prevent killings. "When you have things like an argument or family violence, we know ... we could have a police officer on every corner of every street in the city and we would not be able to impact family violence and/or a dispute between two individuals that takes place in a house. Those are the things that challenge us."
Hall said that people commit crimes like theft or robbery because the opportunity is there. Asking DPD to determine the roots of interpersonal conflict, the thing that leads to the type of violence the city saw in May, isn't fair, the chief said.
Council member Adam McGough, the chair of the Public Safety Committee, told Hall that Dallas crime issues come down to a matter of perception.
"There's a feeling if someone wants to commit a crime, they can get away with it," McGough said. "The other perception is — look, we've heard different policies at the district attorney level — that, if they do get caught, they won't get prosecuted. The more that that perception is out there, the more problems we have."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Hall insisted that attaching her work or that of her department to the reform efforts of Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot wasn't correct. Even if the district attorney doesn't plan to prosecute some low-level crimes like misdemeanor theft or drug possession, DPD officers will continue to pick people up for those offenses, Hall said.
"We will continue to make the arrests," Hall said. "We will never be soft on crime."
Late Monday night, McGough issued a statement doubling down on his questioning of Hall.
"Chief Hall has made efforts to pull together a strategy to decrease violent crime, and I support the steps discussed in the briefing today," McGough wrote, in part. "However, the underlying causes still must be addressed. A perception problem exists in our City where some believe offenders will not get caught, they will not be prosecuted, or there are certain conditions that excuse criminal behavior. We must course correct now. We need our entire community, including our City leadership, law enforcement, advocates, churches, and neighbors, to come together to declare crime will not be tolerated."