A Dallas Police leader said accusations of under-staffing from a patrol officer are misleading, but the commander confirmed manpower is much lower than it once was and lower than brass would prefer.
Nick Novello, a Dallas officer since 1982, said manpower for his 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Central Patrol Division shift fell Sunday Morning to just 2 bicycle patrol officers between 7 and 8 a.m.
“They had to make adjustments and they used the bike elements to answer calls,” Novello said.
A police record indicates manpower for that Central Patrol shift could have been as many as 16 officers but Novello said manpower shortages are not uncommon.
“Someone needs to be held accountable. If it’s me, then rebut me,” Novello said.
The Central Division Commander, Deputy Chief Scott Walton, said the two bicycle officers had cars with racks available to answer calls and that Central Business District officers were also available during that time if needed, along with Central Division officers from an overlapping shift.
“It’s not an accurate picture,” Walton said of Novello’s remarks. But Walton agreed situations like this did not occur just a few years ago when manpower was higher.
Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata is a Northeast Division patrol Sergeant. He said Novello’s example is common at the Dallas Police Department.
“I think he’s pretty spot on,” Mata said of Novello’s report. “Call loads and 911 calls increase throughout the summer. That happens every single year. The problem is we have a reduction of officers and we can’t meet that call load.”
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The latest report from Dallas Police in June showed sworn manpower at 3,028. Mata said the actual number of available officers may be 200 lower by subtracting officers in training.
Dallas Police reached a high of 3,690 officers in 2011 according to a 2016 report on declining manpower for the Dallas City council.
This year Chief Renee Hall has been assuring the public and city leaders that crime fighting progress continues despite shrinking manpower.
“With the number of officers that we have, we are still investigating, we still have community engagement, we are still reducing crime,” Hall said after the March 26 City Council Public Safety Committee Meeting.
At the June 25 meeting, Hall presented a report showing a 22 percent year to date reduction in violent crime.
City Council Members had trouble believing the numbers.
“There’s something not connecting in what’s happening in our neighborhoods and what we are reporting,” Committee Chairman Adam McGough said.
“Are we capturing do you feel the real crime activity that’s happening in our neighborhoods,” Council Member Jennifer Staubach Gates asked.
Chief Hall said the numbers are accurate but police need to do a better job explaining it to citizens.
“The perception of crime is something that we have to work on,” Hall said that day.
Novello and Mata said fewer crime reports are being taken by officers.
“The drop in crime is certainly attributable to the fact that we don’t have officers here to take the reports,” Novello said.
“I believe a lot of people just quit calling because they know we’re not going to get there,” Mata said.
“Every major department is having a hiring problem. A lot of those departments are addressing the problem which is pay and benefits, making it more positive for those individuals to stay. Our department isn’t doing that.”
Mata has been talking with City Council members about pay and benefit improvements in the next city budget, a year before the current pay and benefit agreement expires.
City Council budget debate will resume next month for the spending plan that takes effect October 1.