Dallas County Commissioner Koch: Theft in Any Amount Must Be Prosecuted

I applaud Dallas District Attorney John Creuzot for his initiative regarding criminal justice reform here in Dallas County. We agree on a number of policy objectives and basic principles. That said, I believe that a number of his proposed reforms need substantial change in order to have their intended effect and avoid harm. I hope his memo will start a broader discussion, one that includes law enforcement, the judges and the commissioners court.Creuzot addressed expunctions, probation, criminal trespass and magistration issues and as long as his positions are a starting point for the discussion, we can find consensus. If we start with the Constitution and rule of law, I am confident that together we can make changes that should positively impact public safety. The only area that I do not think is possible is the proposed policy regarding the theft of necessary items. That policy will foreseeably fail, to the great detriment of the same people it seeks to aid.Theft in any amount must be prosecuted. Our judges need to determine appropriate punishment given the facts. Charged individuals should be put in contact with myriad service providers to help address the issue and not shirk responsibility. Otherwise this policy will exacerbate the food desert issues in the south, have a disproportionate negative impact on small retailers (large retailers have sophisticated loss prevention) and potentially escalate violence in situations where retailers resort to self-help.Regarding drug offenses, we should implement a policy that adheres to the dual principles of individual second chances and the government getting it right the first time. We do that by requiring rigorous data collection and submission to substance abuse screening as a condition of the diversion programs. I can support the DA's reforms regarding first-offense marijuana possession and THC possession as long as we are gathering "census" information from the offenders as a condition of dismissal. In order to evaluate the effects of this policy shift and to help prevent detrimental effects of marijuana use among our teens, we need to document the nature of use from every individual we come into contact with.On trace amount drug possession, it would be an incredible disservice to addicts and their loved ones if we did not force the issue of getting sober. People who have trace amounts of a controlled substance must be screened for addiction and directed to resources to get clean. Dismiss their cases, but try to save their lives while we have them on the hook. Second chances are appropriate given the nature of drug offenses and the reality of disproportionate enforcement. But not acting to address substance abuse is a complete abandonment of the public trust and the community's best interest.The disproportionate enforcement issue brings up an essential principle. Our constitutional duties take priority over any other policy. In that light, it would be prudent to suspend the pursuit of the death penalty in Dallas County for two years (save murder of a law enforcement officer). We have ample evidence that when we have an apples-to-apples comparison of penalty phase evidence (that is comparing only those already found guilty or pleaded guilty), African-Americans receive death at a grossly disproportionate rate. It is sensible to wait on issuing a warrant until any drugs are tested to respect presumption of innocence. No one should sit in jail waiting on inefficient testing protocol. Similarly, bond should not be an instrument of oppression and we should seek bail reform that avoids jailing individuals simply because they are poor.I am asking the DA's office to take a difficult path, but I am willing to walk with them every step of the way.J.J. Koch is a Dallas County commissioner. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.  Continue reading...

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