Five people shot in Deep Ellum Friday night brought new urgency for the Dallas city budget amendment debate this week at City Hall.
The shootings were a small sample of the 28% surge in aggravated assault in Dallas so far this year. Despite goals set by Police Chief U. Renee Hall in a 2020 plan to reduce violent crime this year, overall violent crime is virtually unchanged from last year, when more than 200 homicides was the most in decades.
“I’m very concerned in general about the chaos that we’re seeing. It’s not just shootings. It’s also scooters that are out of control. It’s homeless who have been a little more aggressive in our parks and along our streets. And so there are a lot of things that are going on. It’s a complex situation. And the solutions are going to be, I think to be quite honest, unprecedented. We’re in times where the same old tactics are not working,” Councilman David Blewett said.
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Blewett and Councilman Adam Medrano represent Deep Ellum and Downtown Dallas. They met Monday with neighborhood business leaders.
Blewett said they agreed that scooters should be temporarily removed from the city by September 4, coinciding with COVID-19 orders from Governor Greg Abbott about social distancing. Scooter use will be banned in Dallas effective Wednesday.
Scooters have been deemed a nuisance in some of the city’s crime issues.
In a weekend Facebook post after the Friday shootings, in addition to removing scooters, Medrano also proposed boosting police presence in the center of the city and expanding a teen curfew.
“You see a lot more of our youth just wandering the streets because there’s really nothing for them to do,” Deep Ellum worker Steve Villalpando said.
To make ends meet, he said he is working several jobs during the coronavirus pandemic when many businesses are closed.
Blewett said vacancy and the lack of downtown workers has attracted more problems.
“It’s much more empty. So, it looks like there’s more homeless people. It looks like there’s more panhandling. It looks like there’s more chaos, but it’s just more obvious because so many people are not downtown living their lives.” Blewett said.
Mayor Eric Johnson said he is working on solutions to reduce crime citywide with budget amendments he is proposing for Wednesday.
The mayor wants to reduce the salaries of city employees who earn more than $60,000 on a sliding scale from at little as 1% for the lower-paid workers. It could reduce the pay by 25% of City Manager T.C. Broadnax who earns more than $400,000 a year.
“A lot of people are having to tighten their belts. I want to see his proposal more fully fleshed out and see the city managers' response to it,” Blewett said.
In the past, Broadnax has said he would abide by the decision of City Council Members. Broadnax declined an interview request Monday.
Johnson’s plan would raise $6.5 million from pay cuts, for which he proposes three options. His first choice is more funding for public safety. Hiring 50 police civilians in the Johnson plan would allow 50 police officers to be shifted to patrol. The Mayor also wants to fund lighting, youth programs and other measures recommended by his Safer Communities Task Force in January. Mayor Johnson said private sector companies have reduced salaries for highly paid workers and the city government should do the same. Johnson’s alternatives are funding bike lanes and street maintenance or a tax rate cut.
Dallas City Councilman Adam Bazaldua said government jobs are different than private employees.
“Our city employees are already, if you want to compare them to the private sector, underpaid,” Bazaldua said.
He supports the mayor’s goal of hiring 50 police civilians to put more officers on the street, but Bazaldua believes the money could come from police overtime instead. Bazaldua also argues that the Dallas Police Mounted Unit could be eliminated.
“Those officers should be on patrol. I believe our mounted patrol is outdated and not efficient and it’s a waste of money,” Bazaldua said. “There’s plenty of places to look.”
Deep Ellum worker Villalpando said he hopes the measures give paying customers more comfort about safety after news about crime.
“It definitely does hurt businesses because, unfortunately, people will not like to come frequent the areas because they feel a little unsafe, which is not the case,” Villalpando said. “Come out as a family because that’s who Deep Ellum really should be.”
Budget amendments are scheduled in Wednesday's City Council Briefing meeting.