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Report Details Ways To Rethink The Role Of Police Response To Mental Health Calls

A police officer faces a crowd of protesters holding signs and their fists in the air as he and other officers surround Black Lives Matter protesters during Trump's visit to North Dallas in June.
Keren Carrión
/
KERA
A police officer faces a crowd of protesters holding signs and their fists in the air as he and other officers surround Black Lives Matter protesters during Trump's visit to North Dallas in June.

In mid-June, a coalition of community activists and faith leaders in Dallas came up with a list of demands that challenged city leaders to rethink the role of police. Now, “The Working Group” — a group of North Texas city and county leaders — have come up with a new proposal guided by those recommendations. They plan to present it in the city’s next budget meeting.

The report called “The Working Group on 10 New Directions for Public Safety & Positive Community Change” considers how to improve the relationship between communities of color and the police.

“The hope is that everyone will look at these new directions and see places where they can improve the investment in the community and thereby the relationship between the community and law enforcement,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who leads the group.

The group includes Balch Springs City Manager Susan Cluse; Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax; DeSoto City Manager Brandon Wright; Irving City Manager Chris Hillman; Lancaster City Manager Opal Mauldin-Jones; Mesquite City Manager Cliff Keheley; Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot; Dallas County Administrator Darryl Martin; and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.

The report closely examined the 10 issues brought by Dallas activists for social justice, like “change police use of force, particularly deadly force; and to change budget priorities away from policing in order to increase investment for unmet human needs in housing, health care, mental health services, employment, recreation [and] the arts."

Photo of Dallas Police in riot gear in front of Black Lives Matter protesters during President Trump's visit to North Dallas on June 11, 2020.
Keren Carrión
Dallas Police suit up in riot gear in front of Black Lives Matter protesters during President Trump's visit to North Dallas on June 11, 2020.

Activists from groups like Mothers Against Police Brutality, Faith Forward Dallas and Our City Our Future urged the city to invest some of the police departments’ budget into housing, health care and mental health programs. They want the city to shift their approach from policing to public safety and community well-being.

The report provided many alternatives to non-police intervention. One example was how to address mental health calls.

“DPD shall not be the first responder to mental health calls, unless a firearm is involved," a plan outlined in the report read. "Jointly, the City of Dallas and Dallas County shall create a program that assigns teams of mental health professionals or, as appropriate, other professionals in counseling and social work as first responders to mental health calls.”

RELATED | Dallas Budget Proposal Does Not Call For Police Department Cuts

In 2018, the Dallas Police Department implemented RIGHT Care, a program that partners therapists and social workers from Parkland Health and Hospital System with police officers to respond to emergencies. This city wants to expand the program.

“We are providing grants to smaller departments and we are increasing our spend in larger departments to get trained professionals that are not law enforcement to respond to mental health calls where there is not an imminent threat. The person doesn’t have a gun for instance," Jenkins said.

But Jenkins pointed out that hiring additional mental health professionals to respond to emergencies and adding more programs takes money. The Working Group hopes to present this report at the city’s next budget meeting in early September, where they’ll ask council members to direct $5 million to this program.