There was strong support and strong opposition Friday to portions of Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot's reform plan which was released this week.
The bulk of the plan fulfills the campaign platform that long time State District Judge Creuzot used to get elected as DA last year.
Two police union leaders said they heard details of the reforms for the first time at a press conference Creuzot held Friday.
Creuzot said his plan to reject prosecution of certain lesser drug and misdemeanor crimes is based on research. He said other people in the criminal justice system are working with him to reduce recidivism, improve public safety and reduce cost to the taxpayers.
"We're trying to help people get out of the criminal justice system as opposed to just continually processing these cases," Creuzot said.
The police union leaders said they support dropping prosecution of some lesser crimes and saving officers the time it takes to book and process minor offenders.
But Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata said some of the drug cases Creuzot plans to refuse are crimes police are still enforcing.
"If he's not prosecuting those cases, it sends a bad message out to the officers out there," Mata said.
The union leaders took strong exception to a change that would reject prosecution for theft of less than $750 for what the DA calls 'necessary items,' including food and diapers.
"I absolutely think it's sending the wrong message," Mata said. "That shop owner is going to take matters into his own hands, or he's going to have to let $600 worth of merchandise walk out of his store, and I don't think he's going to be in business very long."
Sheldon Smith, President of the Dallas Chapter of the National Black Police Association, said Walmart recently announced it is closing a Southern Dallas store and now remaining small businesses that serve residents will be left with less law enforcement.
"The little store, he has absolutely no chance of staying in business. And why would they? Why would they?" Smith said. "And who's hurt locally at the end? The community is hurt."
Ricky Redd, a customer who relies on the locally owned Food Fair store on Marsalis at Illinois in Dallas, said he is worried about the new policy.
"Those of us that catch the bus, we need something we can get to easily," he said. "I don't want to see this store close that's the main thing."
Reverend Ronald Wright, a community activist, said he has personal knowledge of the consequences of incarceration for a relatively minor crime.
He had a good job but was placed in jail at the age of 40 for a child support violation.
"They lost me in the system," Wright said "I was in jail over a year and a half. I had to write the governor to get out."
He was unable to pay child support and marijuana charges after the jail time landed him in state prison, away from wages again. In prison Wright said he ministered to other inmates who wound up with stiff sentences for problems like illiteracy.
Wright said his life might have turned out differently with the reforms Creuzot proposes to keep offenders out of jail so they can hold down jobs and pay obligations like child support.
"Those guys that are caught with marijuana should be caught and they should be disciplined, but to ruin their lives and send them to prison for something that is legal in certain parts of the United States is ridiculous," Wright said.
In decades since his incarceration as an activist, Wright has also seen how important neighborhood businesses are to maintaining a community. He shares the concern about dropping shoplifting enforcement.
"You're setting the stage that you don't want in this city, because you're saying it's ok to steal," Wright said.
Creuzot said he is committed to the policy change.
"We have to start somewhere," he said. "If it turns out that the data shows that it's having a negative impact on the quality of life in the community, we'll make adjustments. We're bringing people in soon, hopefully, to help us track all these things to make certain that we're doing the right thing."
Creuzot said he has already put many of his reforms in place since taking office in Janaury.