Domestic violence killings were on the rise in Dallas last year, which might be one reason why Mayor Mike Rawlings called a presser Monday afternoon. Another could be the fact that exactly a month has passed since a deeply troubled young man slaughtered 26 people in Newtown, Connecticut, most of them not long out of diapers, before killing himself.
It was a thing beyond all accounting, so perhaps Rawlings felt he had to do, had to say...something to address the roots of violence in the city. "I've racked my brain to seek an answer," he began, standing at the podium inside the Flag Room at City Hall before a handful of City Council members and the press. "It's not just in Newtown. Random and incomprehensible acts happen in our backyard.
"They are smaller in scale, but there are more of them."
Domestic violence has increased at "an alarming rate," he said, with 26 such murders in the city last year, 11 of which were committed by an intimate partner. The Dallas Police are investigating 18 to 20 cases of domestic violence a day, and as many as 13,000 will be reported this year. "[The police] saw this trend starting to take place early last year," Rawlings said. Even within the last week, he mentioned, Karen Cox Smith was murdered by her estranged husband in a UT Southwestern parking garage -- the final act of a violent marriage -- more than two weeks after a warrant for his arrest had been signed.
Rawlings would start, he said, by asking police to move domestic violence warrants to the top of the pile with murders. "I am asking today that [Dallas Police Chief David Brown] redouble those efforts," he said. "We're instituting a 100-officer task force to be sure we are serving warrants for these offenses quickly."
He says he will organize a domestic violence public awareness campaign, peopled with recognizable faces like state Representative Rafael Anchia, Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith and local religious leaders.
The other prong of his strategy, he said, would address mental illness, "that root cause in Newtown ..."
"In Dallas, we have a problem with mental illness. It's a dirty little secret in Dallas. It's something nobody wants to talk about. It's a pastor's wife who struggled with depression, or a teenage son who takes his own life."
Newtown, he added, "was really a suicide taken to the next level. We can't let that happen in Dallas." But for the few who do take action, Rawlings said, "we underfund it in an amazing way." He called for a "thoughtful discussion to shed light on this complex stigma of mental illness," and it would begin, he said, with a symposium hosted by The Dallas Morning News and KERA in the coming weeks.
Rawlings didn't specify exactly how large a role gun control would play in his campaign to stanch the killings -- some 152 in number last year. Nor could he say whether he would seek additional funding for the cash-strapped mental health programs already in existence. "Once we're clear what we need as a city, I'll be down in Austin," he said.
Asked whether he'd consider cracking down on private gun sales at gun shows in Dallas Market Hall -- which don't require background checks -- Rawling said he and the City Council planned to "examine convention center usage" for gun shows. As for joining the 600-mayor petition Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Rawlings called such campaigns "baloney."