Face-Off Between Police Chief and County Commissioner over Low-Level Arrests

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It was the Dallas Police Chief versus John Wiley Price Thursday in a video conference on Price’s claim that police bring too many detainees accused of minor crimes to the Dallas County Jail.

Price was invited to speak to a city council committee considering human and social recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 makes reducing the number of detainees at the Jail urgent.

More than 250 inmates and staff members have now tested positive for COVID-19 and around 900 inmates are under observation after exposure.

Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall said police have reduced low-level arrests by 50% since Dallas County Chief Marian Brown asked for reductions in March when coronavirus was first detected at the jail.

“The Dallas Police Department wants to be a good partner in this entire process. This county, this city is all of our responsibility and we want to be sure we are good partners in that space,” Hall said.

Price was armed with records.

He said there were declines in marijuana, trespassing, mischief, and gambling charges in recent years. But in 2019 there were still 2,300 misdemeanor marijuana cases filed, 1,847 of which were later rejected by prosecutors. That’s 80%.

“We know exactly, exactly what individuals are charged with. This is possession of marijuana only and these are less than four ounces,” Price said.

Such cases were to have been the subject of a “Cite and Release” policy approved by the Dallas City Council in 2017.  Hall said the policy still requires arresting certain marijuana suspects.

Price said he opposed the policy in 2017, but now supports it.

Dallas County also faces a lawsuit to release low-level detainees who are only being held because they can’t afford to post bail.

“I do town hall meetings. I get beat up about that. I get that. But at the same time, we’re between this rock and a hard place,” Price said.

Hall said residents expect police to enforce laws like trespassing to keep their neighborhoods safe.

“It is a balancing act. There is a challenge as a police chief to make sure we are ridding crime out of our community while taking care of the residents of our community,” Hall said.

Price said Dallas police officers waste an average of four hours booking low-level suspects into the jail.

That drew a response from City Council Member Cara Mendelsohn.

“We need your help to make that process faster so our officers can return to the street quicker,” Mendelsohn said.

Members of the City Council Committee said changes in the “Cite and Release” policy may be justified to reduce arrests. 

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