Dallas police celebrated the expansion of their Starlight Program Tuesday as city leaders continued debate over a proposed cut to police overtime that might have helped boost patrols of Starlight locations.
The newest Starlight cameras are at the high crime corner of Forest and Audelia in far Northeast Dallas.
“The community does not feel safe coming to this intersection today,” City Councilman Adam McGough said. “That is part of what we’re working on, part of what a program like this does.”
Cameras inside and outside three convenient stores at that corner are now monitored at police headquarters. It costs the stores around $9,000 to participate.
Hassan Khanani who runs the Chevron store at that corner said customers like the cameras.
“They’ve felt the increased sense of security when coming and shopping here, and that’s exactly what we want,” he said.
Chief U. Renee Hall said the goal is 20 Starlight locations by the end of 2020.
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Hall said calls for service and crime dropped by more than a third at the three locations where Starlight cameras were installed last year.
“I think this is one way that we continue to build trust. Trust is about relationships, it’s about communication. And what we’re seeing here with Starlight is we have community partners. We have businesses, and the officers themselves and the community who are committed to this process, who’ve said 'we see what the Dallas Police Department is committed to,'” Hall said.
One of the original Starlight locations last year was a Texaco store on Ferguson Road near I-635 LBJ Freeway.
Before the cameras, drug dealers were so bold at that location, they counted money beside the street in broad daylight.
Hudson Henley, the landlord of an apartment complex beside the store on Ferguson, hired military-style security to keep the dealers out of his complex
Henley said it was arrests and law enforcement investigation that made the area better, not the Starlight cameras.
“It's much more boots on the ground. It's deploying police officers, law enforcement, to the location, who interrupt people from dealing drugs. The whole thing is about drug dealing. It’s organized crime,” Henley said.
Adriel Turner, a security consultant who worked at Henley’s Northeast Dallas property, moved on to another complex in Northwest Dallas.
At that location, one of Turner’s security officers was wounded by gunfire in February, but Turner said Dallas Police have not returned calls about the investigation.
“Even though we have good information who the two people were that shot us, they have still not reached out to us. And it's been several months,” Turner said. “Cutting their budget is just not going to make it any better.”
The Dallas City Council is planning to trim the police overtime budget by $7 million. Amendments planned Wednesday would further refine the use of that money for other methods that would still protect residents.
"We are now making sure that it is more public safety-focused," Councilman Adam Bazaldua said.
Any reduction in police overtime has drawn opposition, including five former city council members who wrote a letter to the current members.
“We’re also several hundred officers down on our streets. So, overtime covers and puts people on the street to cover that shortage. So, it’s a critical time to put that overtime money back into the budget tomorrow,” said former Dallas City Council Member Gary Griffith.
Councilman Adam McGough has an amendment tomorrow that would restore much of the overtime money.
“I'm concerned. I think the cut is too deep and I don't think it's an appropriate time,” McGough said.
Other members who support the overtime reduction have denied it is “defunding police” as Mayor Eric Johnson has called it.
“We have chosen to embrace data and research,” said Councilman Chad West.
Part of the overtime reduction was to fund civilians to replace officers on desk jobs as recommended in a police efficiency study.
West said an amendment tomorrow will increase the number of civilians from 42 to 95 in the next budget.
Other overtime money would go toward better lighting in crime-prone areas.
“We are really focusing on public safety as a core mission of our city,” Council Member Paula Blackmon said.
Johnson earlier pushed a reduction in civilian city employee salaries as an alternative to police overtime reduction but that has been rejected and does not appear as an option Wednesday.
Demonstrators this year have called for much larger cuts to police funding for social programs that the Dallas City Council has so far refused.
Supporters of the overtime reduction said City Manager T.C. Broadnax has found away to include many of the social programs that demonstrators demanded in the budget.