City Hall

Activists Wanted a Smaller Police Budget. Now, City Council Has Restored Cut Overtime Funds.

A little over $565 million is allocated for the Dallas Police Department in the new budget.
A little over $565 million is allocated for the Dallas Police Department in the new budget. Michael Förtsch on Unsplash
Last summer, Dallas demonstrators and activists flooded the streets after George Floyd's murder in Minneapolis. They chanted, rallied and called for police reform. Many lawmakers and public representatives around Texas echoed their demands.

But when Dallas approved its largest-ever budget last week, bolstered this year by federal money, it restored funds that City Council had removed from the Dallas Police Department's overtime budget last fall. Overall, the $4.35 billion budget comes in at $500 million more than the previous year. 

The $7 million overtime budget cut to DPD was the closest Dallas got to “defunding the police.” Meanwhile, other major Texas cities made much bigger cuts to their police department budgets. For example, Austin hacked $21.5 million from its police budget and shifted another $128 million from the department to others in the city.

But Jesuorobo Enobakhare Jr., chair of the Community Police Oversight Board, called DPD’s overtime budget cut “smoke and mirrors.”

“They were going to get that money from City Council one way or another,” Enobakhare Jr. said.

He acknowledged that there wasn’t a lot of passion about police reform this budget cycle, and that's likely because there wasn’t an incident that rocked the world the way Floyd’s death did. “It’s very unfortunate that it takes someone dying for us to really push for reform,” he said.

Before the City Council approved the budget, Sara Mokuria, co-founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality, told the meeting, “I’m here this morning because we do not need more police officers or more money to police officers. We need more resources in our community.”

She called police officers violence workers. “Their intervention to violence is more violence,” Mokuria said. “This budget is an investment in violence. DPD has consistently [proven overtime] to be an ineffective intervention in creating a safe public. More money into an unaccountable police force will cause more violence.”

Most of the council saw things differently, approving the budget with a 13-2 vote. Cara Mendelsohn and Gay Donnell Willis voted against the budget. Mendelsohn said it didn’t include a big enough decrease in property tax rates. The tax rate decreased by 0.3 cents to 77.33 cents per $100 valuation.

But Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, who voted against last year’s budget, partly because of the DPD overtime cuts, was more than happy this time around.

“This budget is an investment in violence." – Sara Mokuria, Mothers Against Police Brutality

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“Today, we put public safety first,” Johnson said. “I thank my colleagues for supporting my amendment and for backing our efforts to make our city safer. While no budget is perfect, we are providing the resources that our police chief needs to be successful while also supporting community-based initiatives that can help reduce crime and strengthen our neighborhoods.”

Residents and some council members have expressed concern about waste and abuse of DPD’s overtime funds. However, after the city auditor released a preliminary report showing no apparent waste or abuse the funds, Johnson said he planned to get the budget restored. And he did.

Mike Mata, president of the Dallas Police Association, said the "defund the police" rhetoric last summer "really wore down on the psyche of officers.” Restoring overtime funds, Mata said, will increase officer morale because they feel like the city is backing them.

Some of the money will go toward hiring 250 more police officers and buying more equipment like patrol cars and body cameras. In a recent interview, DPD Police Chief Eddie Garcia said the department needs to grow as a whole but the infrastructure required to make that happen doesn’t exist.

“Even if I could snap my fingers and say, ‘Give me 500 officers,’ I can’t handle 500 officers today,” Garcia said. “I can’t train them in the academy, I can’t train them out in the field and I don’t have the supervision once they’re eligible to be a solo duty officer … That’s why we need to grow incrementally.”

The budget will also fund pay raises for police officers and firefighters so Dallas can compete with other cities. Additionally, as the city’s 911 call center continues to struggle with call times, the budget will allow Dallas to hire 62 more people for the center and increase their pay. (While DPD is expected to answer 90% of calls within 10 seconds, a June report to City Council showed that DPD answered only 66% of calls within that time.)

Other items on the budget tackle the digital divide with Wi-Fi to be installed at more than 60 city park buildings, rapid-rehousing to help ease homelessness and water infrastructure problems in the city's underserved areas.

While there wasn’t a huge push for it this budget cycle, Enobakhare Jr. believes change is inevitable. He said, “Reform can and will happen regardless of what the budget says.”
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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