In response to complaints about police brutality and calls for a different kind of law enforcement, members of the Dallas City Council Monday heard about plans for new city programs and the expansion of others.
Civilian violence interrupters will be expected to visit tight-packed Dallas apartments and other high-crime communities that breed crime and gangs to prevent problems.
A group called Youth Advocate Programs, led by Gary Ivory, was selected by the city to run the violence interrupter program.
“They're people who shared kids' experiences, who may have been there and done that themselves,” Ivory said.
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Last fall, another group called Urban Experts launched a similar program run with donations.
Youth Advocate Programs will get $800,000 from the City of Dallas to operate the city’s version and add a jobs component.
“You can't really reduce crime unless you also have jobs and provide economic opportunity to young people and their families,” Ivory said.
Dallas trimmed only a small piece of police overtime money from the current budget in response to last year’s calls for “defunding police” to take more money for social programs. The city did find $32 million for other sources to fund several new alternatives to traditional police response.
The 911 call center now has mental health professionals on duty to help divert hundreds more emergency calls to the Right Care program. It uses unmarked vehicles staffed with one Dallas police officer, one Dallas Fire-Rescue paramedic and mental health experts to respond to calls that might have received only police in the past.
City Council members were told Monday about Mobile Crisis Response teams that will provide yet another alternative to traditional police.
Former Assistant Police Chief David Pughes said he witnessed the need for alternative crisis response many times as an officer.
“And the call might have been about one thing, but the officers notice that there’s no food or children unattended,” Pughes said. “Just time and time there are social service needs that are occurring within our community that police don’t have the expertise or the time to really devote.”
Pughes now leads City Hall’s Office of Integrated Public Safety Solutions to oversee all the new programs. Improved street lighting and removing blight are also part of his mission.
City Council members praised the new programs Monday, which they funded in the city budget in September.
“It's exciting to see this rolling out and you have my full support going forward to make sure that we can see those results,” Councilman Adam Bazaldua said.
Members are quick to point out that it is not the result of massive police defunding which state officials strongly oppose.
“There wasn’t any diversion of funds from the police department or any of those crazy claims that keep going on down in Austin, Texas,” City Councilman Lee Kleinman said.
Ivory said hiring of the 11 violence interrupters is getting started.
He said another deadly police shooting in Minnesota was painful to see on Sunday.
“We can resolve many of these problems by having people to deescalate situations before they happen, preventing violence before it happens, preventing retaliatory violence. And we think in the process that would help to improve community and law enforcement relations,” Ivory said.
Traditional law enforcement still has work to do.
In the same Public Safety meeting Monday, City Council members heard that homicide is up 24% so far this year and aggravated assault is up 8%, despite efforts to address violent crime.
Police and Dallas code enforcement are working on a new approach to convenient stores, which can also be crime hot spots.
New Dallas Chief of Police Eddie Garcia will present a revised plan for violent crime in a few weeks.
Overall Dallas crime is down, partly because many people are spending more time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, making some property crimes more difficult for crooks.