New Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia won praise from city leaders Monday for progress in his plan to reduce violent crime.
Garcia said it is too soon to celebrate.
A briefing for the Dallas City Council Public Safety Committee showed aggravated assault and homicide are still higher so far this year compared with last year, but the rate of increase has flattened the past three months.
At the same time, there have been increases in drug and gun seizures and arrests.
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“I guess I want to say early congratulations. It's been so long since we've had really good news coming out of public safety,” Council Member Cara Mendelsohn said.
Garcia said there is much more work to do and challenging days are still ahead.
“This is in no way a victory. There aren't any touchdown dances we're doing over here. But we as a city, not just the department, but as a city, we are moving the needle a little bit,” Garcia said.
Garcia’s crime plan calls for targeting 47 hot spot grids where crime is highest. Garcia said studies of the numbers also show that crime is not just being pushed to adjacent neighborhoods that are not being targeted, so the strategy is effective, he said.
Rene Martinez served on Mayor Eric Johnson’s safer communities task force.
“I think the crime plan is working. I think in some categories it’s gone down. In some it's flat. So, the trends all look good,” Martinez said.
Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata said morale has also improved among Dallas police officers.
“I think we’re much more confident in the chief and the command staff that are leading us now. I think they’re getting much more appreciation from the community,” Mata said. “We were looking at double-digit increases in violent crime. We reduced that down to single digits."
At the same time, Dallas police are striving to reduce delays at the 911 call center.
The goal is to answer 90% of calls within 10 seconds.
“I have constituents calling me and saying I called 911 and I got a busy signal or I was put on hold,” Council Member Casey Thomas said.
After years of reports of Dallas 911 failures, council members heard new promises Monday of better pay to retain and attract call takers and a plan to increase staffing.
Council Member Tennell Atkins asked how many more police officers would be necessary to increase the number of hot spot patrol areas.
He said some neighbors believe they are receiving less protection than before because of attention shifted to the targeted grids.
“And they feel like they're not getting coverage because we're not in a grid, we're not in a hot spot,” Atkins said.
Garcia said the current force of Dallas police does not allow expanding the number of hot spots. He could not answer how many more officers Dallas needs to improve protection. He said criminologists are working with him to study those questions now and he will have answers in the future.
Hiring at least 250 more officers in each of the next two years is a goal of the proposed city budget offered by Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax Saturday. Those new hires could largely be offset by attrition of officers retiring or leaving.
Mata said better morale and pay raises in the proposed budget could reduce past attrition.
“I think it is only going to get better,” Mata said.
The city council will discuss the new budget Tuesday.
It calls for a very small property tax rate cut, but much more money from property owners due to soaring property values.
Federal COVID-19 relief money is also a big boost to the proposed budget.