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Dallas City Council Wrestles With Budget

Exterior of Dallas City Government Building
Library of Congress
Wikimedia Commons

It's the Dallas City Council's first attempt to set spending levels since protests against police brutality rocked the city and the U.S. over the summer.

The Dallas City Council faces a deadline later this month to approve a budget, and council members spent Wednesday offering amendments. Many would shift how the Dallas Police Department (DPD) uses money and staff.

The conversation around the police budget comes after national and local protests against police brutality in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. The Dallas-based group Our City Our Future has made budget demands to highlight their argument for more social services and reform of what they consider racist policing practices.

Council member Lee Kleinman, who represents parts of North Dallas, proposed several amendments to reassign uniformed officers out of administrative roles and back onto patrol as a way to fight crime without hiring more officers. He also tried to reduce recruitment costs by using an outside firm and move away from a DPD-run police academy.

Those amendments failed by large margins.

Kleinman got more traction with an amendment to eliminate military-style weapons.

“We’ve got to get rid of this military grade equipment,” he said. “This is where we would do it.”

Kleinman pointed to the police response to the recent protests and looting as an example of DPD “bringing out the troops against our community.”

“I just don’t want us to have that,” he said.

Dallas Police Chief Reneé Hall pushed back on Kleinman’s assertion that some of the department’s equipment is excessive, saying it’s often used to keep officers safe.

“Our SWAT team is responsible for responding to multiple incidents of barricaded gunmen, when there’s an active shooter and/or school shooting,” Hall said. “And so we need to ensure that we have the equipment that they need.”

Council member Cara Mendelsohn, whose district is at the northern edge of the city, wanted to keep horses for police officers, something Kleinman's amendment would eliminate.

“I support all of the mounted uses,” she said. “I think it’s a really good way to police, even if it is old fashioned, and I can’t imagine Texas without a mounted patrol.”

Council member Omar Narvaez of West Dallas referenced the tear gas used against protesters over the summer.

“To be able to use this at any given point on folks that were just [exercising] their First Amendment right in this country ... that’s something that I just can’t be for,” Narvaez said. “If this is the way we got to do it, then I’m going to vote for [the amendment].”

It wasn’t clear Kleinman’s amendment had enough votes to pass. Several council members wanted a more detailed breakdown in costs for armored vehicles, tear gas, mounted police, and other controversial police equipment. Kleinman said he would revise the amendment to be more specific on what each line item costs the city, and bring it up again.

Separately, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson’s proposal to cut salaries for non-uniformed city employees making more than $60,000 a year failed by a wide margin.

Johnson’s amendments presented different options for where to apply the savings: public safety, infrastructure or a property tax cut.

There’s a chance Johnson’s amendments could be resurrected in the ongoing budget negotiations. The full council meets again September 9th. A final budget plan will be approved by Sept. 23.

Bret Jaspers is a reporter for KERA. His stories have aired nationally on the BBC, NPR’s newsmagazines, and APM’s Marketplace. He collaborated on the series Cash Flows, which won a 2020 Sigma Delta Chi award for Radio Investigative Reporting. He's a member of Actors' Equity, the professional stage actors union.