Dallas Budget Plan Juggles Public Safety and Calls for Defunding Police

Activists plan to fight for more community spending

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Dallas Police get about the same money as last year, but social programs also get more money in the new budget plan released by City Manager T.C. Broadnax Friday.

The proposed $2.96 billion budget for fiscal years 2020-2021 is just slightly less than the current budget.

“I understand that we are in the middle of a pandemic. Our revenue is down. I do recognize that our city council expects us to find ways to be more effective, more efficient. I think we’ve met that challenge,” Broadnax said.

It comes amid a Dallas battle between supporters of strong public safety and those who have demonstrated to defund the police in favor of much greater spending on poverty programs and neighborhood improvements.

Dallas Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Reich forecast in June a shortfall of as much as $100 million less revenue than what the city had planned to spend in this budget.

“We are in a recession. That’s the bottom line and sales tax is down,” Reich said.

Friday, she said the budget was balanced with a combination of Federal coronavirus relief money and cuts.

“That was the first place we looked was tightening our belts so that we could reinvest in the community,” Reich said.

Several city offices are eliminated and consolidated in the proposed budget. The Transportation Department gets around $3 million less and Public Works gets cut of around $5 million. Potholes are not the loudest public complaint this year.

The proposed budget funds the community investment and police reform plan Broadnax called ‘REAL change’ when he announced it earlier this year; Responsible, Equitable, Accountable and Legitimate.

Funding increases include the Right Care program. Instead of just one specially trained and equipped police officer traveling to mental health calls with a team of medical professionals, the new budget increases the program to five teams. It would provide alternative mental health response to the entire city and not just the limited area in South Central Dallas that is served by Right Care now.

The budget also includes a mobile crisis response team and public intoxication recovery services.

Some of the measures included by Broadnax were recommended in January by Mayor Eric Johnson’s task force on safe communities. Those include crisis interrupters who would work in violence-prone neighborhoods, better lighting to discourage crime and efforts to remove blight.

Sara Mokuria with the group Mothers Against Police Brutality participated in meetings with Broadnax before the budget was released to provide input on reforms that activists have been demanding.

Many of her suggestions were ignored at city hall last year at budget time.

“There are so many more people who are involved this year and paying attention to the budget and understanding the importance that is placed in how our communities are served,” she said.

Some of her suggestions were included in Friday’s plan, but Broadnax said the total increase on those community measures was around $30 million.

“We are looking for a $200 million investment into our community,” Mokuria said. “We need to take that money from an over-bloated police budget.”

The police department budget in Friday’s plan is $516,208,436, about $700,000 less than the current police budget.

Black Police Association of Greater Dallas President Terrance Hopkins supports the approach Broadnax has taken.

“I’m more inclined to think we keep our public safety budget as close as we possibly can, to make sure we keep our officers here in Dallas,” Hopkins said. “We need to make sure we keep that strong public safety presence and at the same time, look at moving some of those calls around that police officers really shouldn’t be responding to, with other city services.”

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson has also called for keeping public safety spending in place to combat violent crime. Homicide is still pacing at last year’s high level. Aggravated assault is sharply higher.

Hopkins countered that non-violent crime is sharply lower and overall crime is slightly down this year compared with last.

“We can’t call out the bad when it’s bad and forget the good when it’s good,” Hopkins said. “Right now, overall crime is down. We can thank the men and women of the Dallas Police Department for maintaining that downtrend overall.”

Mokuria and other activists are mobilizing to fight for more community spending and against the Mayor’s support for a public safety budget. She claims is the wrong approach to crime.

“I would hope that he will do what he needs to do in terms of listening to the constituents and paying attention to what’s happening across this country and make the correct public safety intervention, which includes investing in the community and divesting from the police,” she said.

The city council has a budget briefing Tuesday with virtual meetings scheduled through August for public input. The new budget takes effect October 1.

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