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Don't cut First Offender program

By Maxine Shapiro, KERA 90.1 Commentator

Dallas, TX – A little over a month ago, the city of Dallas convinced its citizens it could not afford the pay hike the police and firefighters were asking for. And now the city is threatening to cut more from the police department budget. This move I'm not so convinced about. I'm Maxine Shapiro with KERA Marketplace Middays.

First, some thoughts on the city budget. Right now I wish it were a brighter picture. The city of Dallas now predicts that there will be an $83 million shortfall for the next fiscal year. With sales tax revenue down 9% and demands up, balancing this budget will take some pretty harsh remedies. Civilian employee pay cuts, layoffs and property tax increases were a few of the proposed methods announced last week. I could probably spend a day discussing each of these.

Then, over the weekend, the Dallas Morning News reported that the police department will have to put another hole in their already-tightened belt buckle. Now, I can deal with the fact that police have had to answer their own phone. Civilian receptionists have already been cut. In fact, over the last two years, over 200 civilian jobs have been cut from the police department. But now they want to cut the First Offender program - a success story since its inception in 1974.

As the Morning News explains, "About one thousand youths arrested for nonviolent crimes and their parents go through a six week program each year, learning about communication skills, self-esteem, and decision making." Cutting this program would save only a little under $400,000. Now try to put a price tag on how many kids this program saves, the future contributors to our economic community. We've all seen it time and time again - the best leaders and teachers are those that have picked themselves up and used their negative pasts to help others and themselves.

The number crunching won't be easy. Everyone will have their cause which they feel does not deserve to be cut. Who will speak for these kids who deserve a second chance? For KERA Marketplace Middays, I'm Maxine Shapiro.

Marketplace Midday Reports air on KERA 90.1 Monday - Friday at 1:04 P.M.