On the same day that Dallas City Council Members sent a strong message to the City Manager that public safety is their top budget priority, former Mayor Tom Leppert said it is possible to hire hundreds more officers.
Leppert left office in 2011 as the Dallas Police force peaked at around 3,700 officers after three years of increased hiring.
"What we did is shifted from non-core services back to core services and that's, I think, what needs to be done," Leppert said.
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A week after being sworn in, new Mayor Eric Johnson and several new City Council Members attended a special budget session. They posted dots beside budget priorities on charts to indicate their preferences for city spending. Public Safety received the most dots.
"Clearly I think that message was sent to the City Manager's office, whatever it is that we're not doing, we want to do it double time. We want to double down and we want to be even more creative and more innovative in our approach to Public safety," Johnson said.
Public safety was not mentioned in the budget priorities shared with City Council last week, but City Manager T.C.Broadnax said he was still treating it that way.
"Some of these things are what we just do 95 percent of the time," Broadnax said.
The Mayor and six new City Council members did not have the opportunity to provide input earlier on the new budget that is being prepared now. Many of them wanted to make it clear they are concerned about a spike in violent crime, including more than 40 murders in the month of May.
"Everyone on Council has heard it from every citizen and we feel it ourselves," said Council Member Cara Mendelsohn. "We get notifications in my District. We had a shooting last night. Three of those 40 murders were in my District and I'm far North Dallas. People don't think about it as being far North Dallas. It's everywhere in our city."
There have been more than 100 murders so far this year in Dallas, more that twice as many through the same time last year. The Dallas Police Force is around 700 officers smaller than it was when Leppert left office.
"We have a budget today that's 40% larger than it was 8 years ago, but a police force that's 20% less. And it's a police force that can't be effective in this city," Leppert said.
Leppert served during the Great Recession when city revenue was declining but he said the police expansion went forward at that time anyway.
Now, there is competition for money in the city budget.
Some people want equity improvements for Southern Dallas neighborhoods that have been neglected in past city spending. Some promote economic development spending to attract new construction that could boost the tax base and help pay for more police officers.
"Targeting Economic Development programs, since we do not have a policy, we're trying to do a policy. We need to hire a consultant to do that," Councilman Tennell Atkins said.
Leppert said more police should come first.
"It's very difficult to get people to come and invest if you start seeing a crime rate that goes high," Leppert said. "You'll never get the investment unless you have the strong core services."
Leppert also said private businesses are facing the same difficulties hiring good workers in this tight labor market, but they mix pay and benefits to attract the people they need and the City of Dallas should do the same.
"It's tough to hire people today, especially those that are educated and trained, but what they do is, they go out and do it," Leppert said.
The former Mayor endorsed Eric Johnson to become the new Mayor and Leppert said he believes Johnson will see to it that priorities the City Council dictated Monday are achieved.
Johnson said efforts are already underway in the meantime to make progress fighting crime with support from State and Federal agencies.
"Dallas is still one of the safest large cities in America and while we have challenges with hiring and retention, we are on the path to continuing to be that safe city," Johnson said.
The Dallas City Council takes a recess in July. The City Manager will present a new budget proposal to the Council in August which must be approved in September to take effect October 1.