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North Texas City Where Two Officers Were Charged With Murder In Last 4 Years Considers Police Reform

Police lights
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Recommendations from the new police reform task force in Farmer's Branch are out this week.

The killing of George Floyd has given a jump start to longstanding police reform efforts in North Texas.

Fort Worth launched its new police monitor’s office early. The Dallas Police Department decided to start releasing body and dash cam videos within 72 hours after a police officer shoots someone

Now, Farmers Branch, a Dallas suburb, wants to improve the relationship between police and the community after a tumultuous few years.

In 2018, former Farmers Branch police officer Ken Johnson was sentenced to 10 years in prison after he shot two teenagers, killing one of them, while he was off-duty. A year later, another officer, Michael Dunn, was indicted for murder in a separate shooting.

Farmers Branch formed a task force to consider possible police reforms after widespread racial justice protests this summer, and came out with a report detailing its recommendations.

The task force's suggestions for improving the force are wide-ranging, and they’re not set in stone.

Mayor Robert Dye publicly presented the report on July 28. He said one idea the city will consider is creating a special division to respond to nonviolent crimes and people in crisis.

"We can't expect our police officers to be everything. They can't be a psychologist, they can't be a social worker and a police officer at the same time,” Dye said. “So how can we take some of those tasks, take some of those burdens, and move them to a group that is focused on those initiatives, on the care and provide that to our community?"

The city also now requires officers to step in when they see a colleague acting inappropriately, and has put restrictions on when they can use chokeholds, permitting them only when officers’ lives are in danger.

An NPR investigation in June found restrictions on neck restraints like chokeholds aren’t always effective, and sometimes go unenforced.

And the killing of George Floyd has many questioning if reform even works. Protesters around the country are calling for drastic defunding of police departments, in order to funnel the money to social services. Others want to abolish police departments altogether.

“We can’t reform the police. The only way to diminish police violence is to reduce contact between the public and the police,” activist Mariame Kaba wrote in a recent New York Times opinion piece.

Defunding or abolition aren’t on the table in Farmers Branch. Other ideas up for consideration are increased mental health services for police themselves, and updated equipment.

“This wasn’t done because we don’t support the police,” Dye said. “In fact, it’s quite the opposite. What you’ll find from this committee was tremendous support for our police.”

Got a tip? Email Miranda Suarez at msuarez@kera.org. You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.

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