At Tuesday’s virtual Denton City Council meeting, the council discussed Mayor Chris Watt’s proposal for a new ad hoc committee to review use-of-force policies and procedures at the Denton Police Department. The committee would be directed to report back to the city council in September with recommendations.
But some activists said they want lawmakers to take the discussions further and consider defunding the police department. The push isn’t new, but the call has grown louder in the days since George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis set off a wave of national social justice protests.
“People hear defund and they hear abolish the police,” said UNT student and activist Anthony Gaut. “We defund schools all the time, we defund healthcare all the time, it’s not something that’s new or completely radical. It’s all about reimagining what we can do with this money that’s already being spent through our taxes and how can we invest it back through the community.”
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Gaut said his call for defunding the police would not mean eliminating officers, but rather spending more public safety dollars on support for people in crisis with mental health, domestic violence and other social support services.
“Cops should be looked at as heroes,” said Gaut. “They’re here to protect and serve, but right now this system doesn’t allow that.”
The Denton Police Officers Association published a statement on Facebook, saying, in part: “While the idea is that the money taken away from the police department could go to other social services, we believe that to ensure success, those services should be in place and well established as effective before any discussion begins about lowering the public safety budget.”
It goes on to say, “We cannot afford to put the cart before the horse on something as important as public safety.”
Mayor Chris Watts said during Tuesday’s city council work session he’s received hundreds of emails about social justice issues – including many for and against defunding the police.
“We’ve got the budget process coming up in just the next month or two to begin to really talk through the upcoming budget. So, I think there’s going to be plenty of opportunity to talk about these other issues that are of concern to people and I understand that,” Watts said.
Watts told the council he wants to start with a new ad hoc committee to give recommendations on use-of-force policies and training – reporting to the city council by September 15. Watts said forming a use of force committee now would not prevent the council from setting up other committees with a more expansive approach later.
“It’s very narrowly tailored because I wanted to get out in front of this and take some action,” Watts said.
According to the city’s presentation to the council, the committee would be appointed by the mayor and include people from the community along with representatives from groups that include local universities, the LGBTQ community, the NAACP, LULAC and The Denton Police Officers Association.
Ex-officio members would include Chief Frank Dixon, Police Accreditation and Compliance Unit Representative Dr. Richard Williams, City Manager Todd Hileman, Deputy City Attorney Mike Cronig and City Council Member Jesse Davis.
“At its best, it’s the first of many steps going forward. At its worst, it’s attempting to put a band-aid over a wound that needs surgery,” said Gaut.
He explained use-of-force is just one problem activists want to address.
“To break down systemic racism, it can’t just stop with police not killing us anymore. You have to go through and have them be an integral part of the community as well,” Gaut added.
The council also heard from Denton Police Chief Frank Dixon about reforms proposed under the “8 Can’t Wait” initiative, following protests by Campaign Zero – which is advocating for police reform. The reforms include banning chokeholds and shooting at moving vehicles along with requiring de-escalation and a warning before shooting.
“When the ‘8 Can’t Wait’ was launched, we looked over our policies, our general orders and we found out we met all of those,” Chief Dixon told the council.
He also said the department is open to ways to improve – incorporating feedback from the public and officers.