Dallas City Council Members Deny ‘Defunding' Police

As Governor questions city budgets, Dallas Police Union leader does not fight Dallas action

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As Texas Governor Gregg Abbott Thursday renewed his call for public officials to take the “Texas Back The Blue Pledge,” Dallas officials denied “defunding” police with a budget vote Wednesday.

And the leader of the largest Dallas Police union said he would not fight the City Council action.

In a 13 to 2 vote Wednesday, the Dallas City Council cut $7 million from the upcoming police overtime budget. 

That’s about a third of what was allocated for overtime and a much smaller percentage of the $500 million overall for police in the new budget that takes effect October 1.

Of that $7 million, $1.6 million would be shifted to hiring 42 police civilians, to move that many sworn officers from inside jobs to patrol.

Six of the 13 members who voted for the change Wednesday held a press conference afterward to praise their work.

“All of us have one thing in common. That's protecting the public safety. There are different ways of doing it,” Councilman David Blewett said.

Another $1 million would go for better lighting in public areas. That was a recommendation from Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson’s Safer Communities Task Force in January as a way to help prevent crime.

Better street signals to improve traffic safety would get $2 million. Bike lanes, a minimum wage boost from $2.88 an hour to $14 an hour, affordable housing and cultural programs would get the rest of the redirected police overtime money.

The supporters said the changes are for proven strategies that can contribute to public safety and reduce crime.

“None of those things will be funded if the people of Dallas leave to go to our neighboring cities,” said Council Member Cara Mendelsohn.

She is the one City Council Member who voted along with Mayor Eric Johnson against reducing police overtime money, which the Mayor called unconscionable .

Johnson said 150 murders in Dallas so far this year is on pace to top last year’s murder rate, which was a 13 year high for the city.  Aggravated assault not related to family violence is up almost 30% this year.

“I don’t know how any of us can look at all that and say that it’s the right time to cut back on police overtime,” Johnson said. “I’m against defunding of police that the City Council has proposed.”

Instead, Johnson wanted to reduce the salaries of the highest-earning city officials, which he called “defunding the bureaucracy.”  

The 13 members voted against the Mayor’s plan in favor of the overtime change.

They denied it amounts to defunding police.

“No one on the council wanted to defund police. It' simply not what we proposed and It's simply not what we have done,” Council Member Adam Bazaldua said.

Overtime was needed this year to deal with demonstrations and officers taken from regular duty to quarantine for coronavirus.

“But that doesn't mean overtime should be a blank check. I don't run my business that way,” Councilman Chad West said.

The City of Austin has talked about cutting $150 million from their police budget. It has already cut $21.5 million

“These cities need to heed the word from the Governor. I don’t believe he’s taking this lightly,” said Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata.

But Mata said the Dallas budget change was nothing like what happened in Austin. He said he supports programs that may prevent crime and save officers from answering calls for issues like mental health.

“So in the big picture am I mad about it? No, I'm not really mad about it, as long as the council keeps their word,” Mata said.

The Dallas City Council promise is that more police overtime money will be found if it is needed.

The final Dallas City Council vote on a new budget is set for September 23, so there is still time for more changes.

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