Too few police officers are funded in the Dallas City Manager’s proposed 2018-2019 budget, City Council Members said Tuesday.
The spending plan forecasts police manpower at 3,050 officers by October 2019 compared with 3,044 expected by October 2018 and 3,028 recorded in the most recent June 2017 manpower report. It is far below the 3,690 Dallas Police manpower peak recorded in 2011.
“I’m looking to management to help us with this issue because I know we need more officers on the street,” said Council Member Jennifer Staubach Gates at Tuesday’s budget briefing.
Low pay is cited as a major hurdle in Dallas Police Officer recruiting and retention.
Manager T.C. Broadnax included in his proposed budget a modest raise already promised to police and firefighters to bring starting salaries up to $51,688.
Chief Renee Hall said that is still behind other North Texas cities.
“If you’re lower paid than any other cities in the Metroplex, it becomes extremely difficult to recruit,” Hall said. “We just want to be in the game.”
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Somehow in recent years, Dallas Police reported crime reduction even with the sharp decline in manpower.
But Council Members are hearing complaints from citizens about slow response to calls.
“There’s no question we’ve got an issue with response times,” said Mayor Mike Rawlings.
City Council Members have also complained about crime problems in certain neighborhoods, contrary to the crime reduction figures police leaders have reported.
“I know right now officers are going from call to call, and certainly in North Oak Cliff, as in other areas of Dallas, we’ve had a spike in violent crime. I think that can be addressed by increasing the staffing of our police force,” said Councilman Scott Griggs.
Griggs and some other members support a 5% police and fire pay raise, on top of what is already included in the budget.
“I’d like to consider yet more pay increase for our police officers. That’s something I definitely want to do,” said Councilman Rickey Callahan.
The City Manager’s spending plan is a record $3.6 billion, with a $1.35 billion general fund budget. Public safety already gets 60% of the money.
Property taxes, which supply more than half the general fund revenue, are up in Dallas with a 9.94% increase in property values.
To reduce the pain for taxpayers, the City Manager included a 2% reduction in the property tax rate, which amounts to $19 million in potential revenue to the city.
“The tax rate decrease that you have proposed is not what people are demanding,” said Councilman Philip Kingston. “People are demanding police.”
Adam McGough, Chairman of the City Council Public Safety Committee, said citizens complain to him about rising tax bills but also about the need for more police officers.
“Even some of my most conservative citizens are saying, we need to pay our police and fire,” McGough said.
Mayor Mike Rawlings refused to support eliminating the tax rate reduction.
“This is an important step in our important responsibility to the taxpayers,” Rawlings said.
The Mayor suggested eliminating the exclusion of police recruits who admit past marijuana usage to expand the possible applicant pool.
“We’ve got to kind of think about and break down the barriers for those things,” Rawlings said.
Chief Hall is already reducing the passing score on police exams to 70% from 80% required in the past to get more officers hired.
The proposed budget forecasts hiring around 255 new officers but that is just slightly above the 249 the city expects to leave.
Hall said the Police Academy could train more if enough qualified recruits could be hired.
“We are estimated to be able to train in one year 350 people. But if we got more, we would figure it out, how to train them,” Hall said. “The City Manager has made it extremely clear, if we bring the numbers in, he’ll pay for it.”
City Council Members will continue the debate over the next few weeks on whether much higher salaries should be a bigger part of the incentive for a larger Dallas Police force. They must agree on new budget by late September to have it in place on October 1.