Dallas City Council Members at a Public Safety Committee meeting Monday praised a list of alternative efforts to combat violence as the rate of violent crime continues to rise.
Aggravated assault that is not related to family violence is up 32% so far this year. Homicide is up 17% with more than 200 killings in 2020, topping the number at the same time last year, when Dallas saw the most homicide in more than a decade.
Retired Assistant Dallas Police Chief David Pughes now leads the new Office of Integrated Public Safety Solutions. It was created to oversee the programs City Manager T.C. Broadnax labeled REAL Change; Responsible, Equitable, Accountable, Legitimate.
“I think there was a little bit of skepticism in my mind, I’ll be honest. Coming from a law enforcement officer, I would think that your knee jerk is to go to law enforcement as the initial response,” said Dallas City Council Member Adam Bazaldua. “I really appreciate you working with the various stakeholders that are collaborating through this office and really showing how we can reimagine public safety.”
The new city budget includes funding for the REAL programs, several of which were also recommended by a safer communities task force appointed by Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson.
They include better lighting in high crime areas, removing blight that contributes to neighborhood decline, re-entry programs to help ex-offenders leaving prison stay out of crime and behavioral health response to mental health calls instead of just sending police.
“I love what you are doing. And I love the collaborations that you’ve been able to partner with throughout the city. And I am supportive of seeing all these changes. And I think this is really how we improve people’s lives,” Council Member Cara Mendelsohn said.
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Another program on the list is Violence Interrupters. They will be paid to make connections in neighborhoods. The effort is being led, for now, by a non-profit group that includes former gang members who know the streets.
Council Member Casey Thomas said competitors in that field should be included in the program as it expands.
“We don't want turf wars, things of that nature. Let’s see how we can spread this out. Not have one or two,” Thomas said.
There are concerns about creating ways to measure the effectiveness of city spending on alternative efforts.
“So that we have goals set, to track where the progress is to meet them,” Bazaldua said.
Council Member Adam McGough said better lighting should extend to new hike and bike trails that are opening around Dallas.
“These areas that are not safe when it is so dark,” McGough said.
Councilman McGough is also a former Assistant Dallas City Attorney who worked as a community prosecutor on code enforcement. He said community prosecutors should already be pursuing blight and lighting issues in every neighborhood.
“This level of work is the same thing we should be doing in areas all over,” McGough said.
McGough and Mendelsohn voiced concern about a new report from police that shows all of the violent crime repeat offenders arrested in a recent sweep have already been released from jail.
The City of Dallas is conducting a search for a new police chief after U. Renee Hall announced her resignation. She has agreed to stay through the end of the year.
Finalizing some of the strategies discussed Monday is on hold, waiting for a new chief.