An overhaul of Dallas city spending is gaining support among Dallas City Council members as demonstrators demand social programs to prevent crime and reduce contact with police.
An 11-point police reform plan Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax unveiled Friday may not be enough to satisfy some city leaders who reviewed it Monday.
“We can't do business as usual right now. The protests are not going to stop until we take some immediate action,” councilman Casey Thomas said.
Dallas police Chief U. Renee Hall has marched with demonstrators in some of the protests. But her department’s handling of nearly 700 peaceful protesters on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge a week ago is one of the issues that continues to draw criticism for her department, including from her boss, the city manager.
“What happened on the bridge was inappropriate,” Broadnax said.
Hall has been unable to provide specifics about the type of weapons or smoke police used to corral the demonstrators on the bridge June 1.
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Monday, Dallas City Council Public Safety Committee Chairman Adam McGough said Hall should be expected to provide answers about each day’s protests instead of waiting for a report after all the demonstrations end.
In interview with NBC LX Monday, Hall said stronger police tactics came when circumstances changed.
“Peaceful protest was not met initially with riot gear,” Hall said.
One of the 11 points in the Broadnax plan is a complete review of department policies by the Dallas Citizens Police Review board, which resumes meetings Tuesday after months of cancellations due to the coronavirus.
Hall said she welcomed that review.
“Is there room for change? In everything. But we have to realize what we are asking for. We are, for us, to second guess ourselves about what we were dealing with at that time, with the information that we had,” Hall said.
Thomas said demonstrators increasingly expect deeper reforms from city government.
“Not just in police policy, but they’re asking change in how we allocate funds, Thomas said. “We’re going to have to make decisions that people are not going to be very happy with. I’ve got to be honest about it.”
Council members Adam Bazaldua and Jaime Resendez have strongly supported the idea of shifting resources from police to boost social programs, but no specific plan has been presented to the city council so far.
Resendez said Monday he supported “divesting” in the police department.
“I do believe we need police officers to enforce the laws,” he said. “But historically, the city and other municipalities across the country have spent a disproportionate amount of resources in traditional law enforcement and that strategy hasn’t been working.”
Resendez emphasized it would mean “re-imagining” what the police department looked like.
“We remain committed to public safety in our community, in our city. This is just a different way of looking at public safety through a different paradigm,” he said.
“If we have 60% of our budget allocated to public safety, that means 40% is left among all other services,” Bazaldua said Sunday. “The divestment doesn’t mean that we need to lay off all of our officers or that a police presence isn’t needed. It’s that the police strategy and the approach we are taking is not working.”
Resendez said he expected Dallas’ city manager to prepare a budget proposal that spends less on policing and more on other city services to present to the council.
Dallas Police Association President Sgt. Mike Mata said he sees common ground in the idea – especially at a time when police officers are being asked to do more.
“It’s almost like every social ill is fixed by, 'Let's send a cop over there,'” Mata said.
Mata cautioned against cutting the number of officers, but said he supported the city trimming the fat from the city budget and investing in community prevention programs.
“If it’s de-investing some funding into the police department, I don’t know if I have a problem with that because I would much rather catch a youth individual before they become a criminal,” Mata said. “I think that’s what we need to look at: what’s really important in this city – that’s our kids."
Radiance Bean with In Defense of Black Lives – Dallas Coalition said she ultimately wanted to see communities move toward abolishing police departments and using taxpayer dollars to fund programs that improve services like education, mental health and healthcare.
“Once we take the money from the police budget and put it back into the community, you’ll see a lot of these crimes will decrease anyway on their own,” Bean said.
Bean said the idea isn’t a new one, but she believes it’s gaining traction now amid racial justice protests nationwide after George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis.
“I am a nurse, by trade, so I am always about process improvement. If something is not working, we change it. One thing we can’t do is keep things the same,” she said. “Even if you aren’t at police abolition, you know that what the police are doing right now isn’t working. Why don’t we take that money and try some interventions that might actually help?”