Despite protesters’ continued calls to defund the police, Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax says he never had any intention to lower the law enforcement budget. In fact, federal funding from the CARES Act passed by Congress to help counter the ongoing economic crash means the Dallas Police Department could see a small increase in funding in the 2020-21 fiscal year.
The calls to defund have not been solely from protesters. In June, 10 city council members sent a letter to Broadnax asking for information about decreasing the police budget.
“I’ve said very clearly that [defunding the police] was not our mission or intention, particularly given the challenges we’ve historically had with hiring and the direction that the council had given,” Broadnax says.
Instead of defunding, the city is proposing different ways the police department can be assisted to promote what it is calling “R.E.A.L. Change,” an acronym for policing that is responsible, equitable, accountable and legitimate.
“We can’t ask or expect law enforcement to do it all. When we’re faced with a problem, we come together as a city and we solve it,” Mayor Eric Johnson said in the budget proposal unveiled at a news conference on Friday.
The proposed budget includes plans to improve police training in implicit bias, de-escalation techniques and less-lethal tactics, and the city is looking to put together mobile response teams to assist DPD in homelessness, mental health emergency calls and more.
Broadnax says they are looking to add $1.5 million and seven staff members into the mobile response team effort. The new homelessness team was proposed by council member Chad West, who chairs the housing and homelessness solutions committee.
West said discussions about the response team are ongoing.
Plans also call for adding an intake specialist and a mediation coordinator to the Office of Community Policy Oversight.
At demonstrations in North Texas, some protesters have said that an increased focus on training is an empty gesture because many police departments conduct similar programs, but the problems with abuse by law enforcement officers persist.
The proposed budget also calls for an expansion of the RIGHT Care program, which sends social workers on police calls to assist the mentally ill and avoid unnecessary hospitalizations, arrests and interactions between police and the people they are supposed to protect.
Broadnax says each year police respond to about 13,000 mental health calls.
The RIGHT Care program is still in its pilot phase in the South Central patrol division, Broadnax says, but by the end of 2022, the plan is to have up to 10 teams working.
The city is also looking to allocate funds toward supporting released jail and prison inmates.
Broadnax says he wants the police to work with community organizations to act as violence interrupters — people who can resolve conflict and stem violence from within their communities.
Some of these initiatives have been implemented on and off in Dallas communities over the years.
Last summer, community activists with Guerilla Mainframe and Black Empowerment Movement walked the Highland Park Apartments, dealing with crime and homelessness. They had an arrangement with the owner of the complex: They would patrol the area if they could have an apartment to use as their headquarters.
Although they carried guns and had been shot at, they never once fired their weapons in the time they patrolled the apartment complex.
A big part of their job was keeping the homeless out of the vacant apartments. Whenever they found someone inside what was supposed to be an empty apartment, they would remove them and do what they could to land them a job and find them somewhere else to say.
Every month, managers from local apartment complexes gather at the local library in Highland Hills for a crime watch meeting. At these meetings, the managers receive monthly crime statistics from the police, and for a long time the crime stats provided to the co-owner of the Highland Park Apartments would take up four to five pages. When the activists’ summer of patrols came to an end, the crime stats only took up half a page, activists say.
Although they had no interest in working with police, their actions were, in part, a way to deal with the long police response times they said they saw in their community.
“Dallas had an opportunity to be progressive and to defund the police. Instead, the city manager and leadership decided not to include funding reforms — same old Dallas,” said Yafeuh Balogun, one of the activists who led the patrols, of the proposed budget.
Balogun says he does support programs like RIGHT Care. “Programs such as this can ensure the safety of first responders and the community, he says.
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DPD has been fighting staffing shortages for some time now, and this problem hasn’t disappeared since the pandemic. While COVID-19 will affect the class sizes for recruits, the city is still looking to hire 150 new officers.
The city also plans to increase the minimum wage for its employees to $15 by FY 21-22.
Despite the economic downfall brought on by the pandemic, there is no property tax increase in the proposed budget. Almost $35 million in revenue will be raised from new property added to the tax roll this year.
The City Council will receive a briefing on the budget proposal on Tuesday and community budget town hall meetings will follow. A vote on a final budget is expected in September.