City Hall

How Accusations of 'Defunding Police' Could Decide a Dallas City Council Runoff

David Blewett has lived in District 14 for about 35 years. He's facing the district's former city plan commissioner Paul Ridley in the June runoff for City Council.
David Blewett has lived in District 14 for about 35 years. He's facing the district's former city plan commissioner Paul Ridley in the June runoff for City Council. Jim Schutze
The backlash came quickly. The Dallas City Council voted last year to slash the city's police overtime budget by $7 million, and although they increased the overall police budget by $15 million, the accusations poured in. Critics including Gov. Greg Abbott said they were trying to "defund the police," referring to a slogan popularized during Black Lives Matter rallies.

District 14 City Council member David Blewett had voted to approve the overtime cut, but he's now reversed course. He says he wants to fully restore the funds.

In an announcement Friday, Blewett said there are forces attempting to divide us. “We must seek unity over division,” he said. “In that vein, today I stand proud to receive the support of Elizabeth Viney.”

Viney was one of Blewett’s opponents in the general City Council election before it went to a runoff with a former city plan commissioner for the district, Paul Ridley. Blewett came in second to Ridley.

In an emailed statement to her supporters, Viney said: "Though the May 1 election did not go our way, I will nevertheless continue to fight for the safety and prosperity of our City and for District 14. It is with that conviction that I agreed to meet with Councilman Blewett regarding his willingness to adopt the Viney campaign’s platform on public safety and to restore all monies defunded from the police overtime budget."

During the general election, Blewett tried to shake off criticism of the Dallas police overtime cut from right-leaning voters and Viney, his more conservative opponent.

But now, Blewett has joined forces with Viney, seemingly hoping to win over more conservative voters. That's how Ridley sees it, anyway.

“He obviously did that to get Elizabeth Viney’s support in this runoff election," Ridley said. "In doing so, he completely reversed his opinion. All through the campaign he did nothing but justify that budgetary cut in the face of her criticism. Now he’s saying, ‘Oh, I got it wrong. I should not have done that.’ I think that badly affects his credibility.”

On the Dallas Police Department budget, Ridely said, “I believe we should fully support our police with the resources necessary to combat crime and at the same time hold them accountable for the results that they achieve.”

Public safety has arguably been the biggest focus of the recent council races. Homicides and overall crime are steady. Street racers and stunt drivers consistently take over city streets.

Blewett said public safety is a vital function of Dallas’ local government “and funding our police department is a critical part of achieving it.” He said the overtime cut was a choice, in good faith, to prevent a greater attempt to defund the police department.

With about five months remaining in the fiscal year, Blewett pointed out that the overtime budget has been exhausted. Those dollars can be replenished from the general fund, but Blewett said it’s clear to him now that “overtime funding is a vital part of the public safety budget.”

He and Viney agree on three goals for the city and how they can accomplish them.

The two say they want to reduce 911 response times, curb street racing and stunt driving, and reduce rising violent crime in Dallas. To do that, the overtime budget must be fully restored, the officer shortage needs to be addressed and the city needs to ensure all officers are trained properly.

Blewett's backtracking comes as Republican lawmakers pursue a bill that would punish certain cities for "defunding" the police. But it doesn't look like Blewett will be a problem in that regard. He said he'll advocate to fully support and fund the police.

“Our city’s safety — your safety, your family’s safety — is too important for any of us to do anything less,” he said. "If there is one thing we can all get behind, it is safe streets for our community, our neighbors, our friends and our families.”

The election day for the runoffs is June 5, and voters can also cast their ballots early between May 24 and June 1, with the exception of Memorial Day.
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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