Dallas City Council members and outgoing police Chief Renee Hall Monday discussed a high rate of violent crime and funding necessary to fight it.
Another Dallas homicide Monday kept the city on pace to meet or surpass last year’s high rate of more than 200 killings. The rate of aggravated assault, where victims survive the attack, is about 28% higher than last year.
An armored vehicle security guard was shot and killed by a suspect Monday at a credit union office on Cockrell Hill Road. The victim was identified as 28-year-old Jose Montes.
Hall told the Dallas City Council Public Safety Committee that overall crime is down despite the increase in violent crime.
Hall said she is concerned about a cut in police overtime funding that the city council approved last week, but that police would not use it as an excuse to stop working on crime problems.
“We’re asking the community and the council to get on board with us. Let’s do a full bore press to get these numbers down so we can continue to be a world-class city,” Hall said.
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Police said convenience stores and apartment complexes are still a source of many violent crimes.
The corner of Forest Lane and Audelia is a place like that, with many large apartment complexes around a convenient store.
Resident Christine Havener purchased a single-family home adjacent to the apartments five years ago. Now, Havener said weekly gunfire worries her 8-year old son.
“It’s unacceptable. I don't want to raise my son in Dallas anymore,” Havener said. “If their goal is to decrease, it’s the opposite. The violent crime, the gunfire has actually gotten worse the last few years.”
Police told city council members much of this year’s gunfire is the result of conflicts between people who know each other and not the typical drug and gang activity.
“We can speculate that it's a product of COVID or a product of being sheltered in place. It's sporadic,” Deputy Chief Reuben Ramirez said. “In these cases, we’re seeing people with weapons that are pulling those weapons abruptly, and using them.”
Ramirez said detectives are able to solve many of these crimes because many of the people involved are acquainted.
City Council Member Carolyn Arnold defended police.
“We can't afford as a city to keep blaming the police if people keep choosing homicide over help,” Arnold said.
Several city council members praised police for a street racing crackdown that’s been underway since Labor Day weekend.
“Because I've heard from a lot of constituents downtown that they've noticed a difference,” Councilman David Blewett said.
Chief Hall confirmed that an extra surge in police staffing made the crackdown possible and may have come at the expense of police staffing in other parts of the city.
Christine Havener said when she calls 911 to report people in her alley shooting guns, she waits as long as 5 minutes just to talk with a police operator.
“They could easily get over my fence and be in my house before I'd even talk to someone,” Havener said. “If Dallas can't get a hold of it, then yea, I'm going to move for sure.”
Even with the overtime fund reduction, the Dallas Police Budget for the next year is still pegged at around $500 million and city leaders have promised to find more overtime money if it is necessary.
At the same time, the city is under pressure to fund new social programs and police reform measures.
Monday the committee also heard about the ABLE program, short for Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement.
Every Dallas Police Officer is to receive training in the program over the next year.
Chief Hall recently made a change in policy to require officers to report misconduct they witness by other officers.
B.J. Wagner with the Caruth Police Institute at the University of North Texas at Dallas said ABLE is intended to retrain officers about the loyalty to superiors they have received in the past.
“We ingrain the authority of the chain of command into what these officers are really paying attention to every day,” Wagner said. “It often what inhibits an officer from speaking up when he does see wrongdoing taking place. And so the foundation of ABLE overcomes critical loyalty.”
A similar approach has been used as part of the reform program at the New Orleans Police Department.
Dallas Council Members voiced support for ABLE.
“I think it’s a growth opportunity for every officer to be open to,” Councilman Casey Thomas said.
Assistant City Manager Jon Fortune said ABLE training is an example of the new collaboration the City of Dallas is planning with the University of North Texas at Dallas.
UNT-Dallas and Dallas PD are discussing the possibility of a joint police academy at the university campus.
Chief Hall has told City Manager T.C. Broadnax that she will stay on the job through the end of the year as he searches for a replacement.