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Police Funding Remains Mostly Intact As Dallas City Council Approves Budget

Dallas City Hall BLM-5.jpg
Keren Carrión
/
KERA News
The Black Lives Matter mural can be seen in front of Dallas City Hall on June 16.

The Dallas City Council voted Wednesday to approve a $3.8 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Despite activists' outcries, council members didn't make significant changes to the police budget.

After meeting for more than 12 hours, the Dallas City Council voted Wednesday night to approve a $3.8 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The police department’s $500 million budget will remain mostly intact, despite calls from residents and activists to slash $200 million from the police.

As the meeting continued late Wednesday evening, protesters marched from Dallas police headquarters to city hall continuing to call for defunding police in response to just one Louisville, Kentucky police officer being indicted for shooting and killing Breonna Taylor.

Instead of stripping funding from Dallas police, the council trimmed the department’s overtime budget by $7 million. But much of that funding will still benefit the department by paying for civilians so officers can leave desk jobs and work the streets.

Money will also be used for street lighting and to pay for a crime-reduction program.

The council voted 9-6 to approve the budget.

Council member Omar Narvaez noted the robust public debate in recent weeks.

“They had their wants, their needs and we’re not going to address everything,” he said. “I wish it was raining money on us. It’s not and we had to make some tough choices.”

The budget includes a slight property tax decrease, but rising property values will likely offset that decrease.

The police overtime amendment passed 11-4. Council member Adam Bazaldua said cutting the overtime funding also helped the city reach other goals, like increasing the number of non-sworn personnel in the police department.

Council member Chad West said the effort will help the council and the city keep an eye on spending in the police department.

“I don’t believe personally in a blank check for overtime, and I don’t think the city should do that either,” West said.

Council member Casey Thomas supported the idea of using some of the money toward a violence interrupter program, which aims to reduce violence in high-crime neighborhoods.

“This amendment will go a long way,” he said. “History shows and data shows that violence interrupters help reduce crime. That means fewer officers that have to be out addressing overtime.”

But council member Cara Mendelsohn was among a few not in favor of reducing police funding. She said the money is needed to help police address the rise in violent crime.

“The city manager, the mayor and the police chief all agree the $7 million overtime should stay in the budget and you know those three people don’t agree very often,” she said. “So I think that may be a sign to the council.”

The amendment will also direct money toward illegal dumping and other issues that council members believe lead to poverty.

Though the council spent hours debating several amendments, there were not many drastic changes to the initial proposed budget shared by City Manager T.C. Broadnax over the summer.

The budget pays for the expansion of the RIGHT Care program. RIGHT Care pairs police, EMS and mental health professionals together to handle mental health emergencies.

We also saw money go towards the expansion of the Office of Community Police Oversight, programs to reduce implicit bias, and training in de-escalation and less-lethal tactics.

And the city’s expanding funding for 3,000 additional mobile internet hotspots. More than 40% of Dallas households don’t have access to the internet.

The "Defund the police, fund the community" banner is seen among the crowd of around 100 people at Friday's community gathering at Dallas City Hall.
Keren Carrión
The "Defund the police, fund the community" banner is seen among the crowd of around 100 people at a community gathering at Dallas City Hall earlier this summer.

Public Comments

Wednesday morning’s city council meeting began with public comments and all but one of the comments were voiced by Dallasites who were upset that the Council did not listen to demands that they eliminate money from the Dallas Police Department’s more-than $500 million to invest in social services.

Hellena Coranza, a Dallas resident and organizer with the Texas Organizing Project said the council hasn't listened to residents' ideas about improving safety.

“If you were actually interested in keeping our communities of color safe, you would listen to the people whose lives are threatened every day. You would go into the communities you’re supposed to advocate for and ask them ‘what would make them feel safe?’" she said. "And you would quickly find out that police are not anywhere on that list.”

Rabbi Nancy Kastan from District 13 called into the meeting to remind the Council that people are asked to “live within their budgets every day.” She wanted to know why the Dallas Police Department isn’t held to the same standard, referencing DPD’s $24 million overtime budget.

“It seems wise to be using that money for other things that we need in this city, rather than putting more and more money into the DPD,” she said. “We don’t hold the DPD accountable. We are afraid to right-size the police department, so that they do what they’re trained to do.”

Kristian Hernandez, District 6 resident and cofounder of Our City Our Future, also felt as though the City Council was allowing DPD spending to go unchecked. She spoke out against a measure within the budget that’s paying for a police helicopter.

“If helicopters are so important to DPD, it should be prioritized within the money that has already been allocated to them and not from the general fund,” she said. “It also begs the question: ‘What is the the actual DPD budget amount?’ Or is the reality that they have no budge, but merely a blank check willing and ready.”

Susan Fountain, a member of the group Team Blue Valor, was the only commenter who supported funding for the Dallas Police Department. Fountain took aim at the Police Oversight Board and the amount of money spent reviewing the actions of police officers.

“We have allowed the city council to weaponize the Community Police Oversite Board,” she said. "With a top-down, one-employee arm of the board, with a $175,000 salary and who is now demanding to be provided a car.”

She said Tonya McClairy, the police oversight monitor, “was attacking our police officers without waiting to allow Dallas Police to conduct an investigation first.”

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Corrected: September 24, 2020 at 11:54 AM CDT
An earlier version of this story mistakenly identified Tennell Atkins as the council member who talked about the violence interrupter program. It was actually Council member Casey Thomas.