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While Murders Are Up In Dallas, Some Community Leaders Don't Want Help From State Law Officers

DallasCityHall_Drriss.jpg
Courtesy of The City of Dallas

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has directed the state Department of Public Safety to help the city tackle the surge in homicides, but community leaders say "over-policing" is not the way.

Social justice and faith leaders are expressing their opposition to Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent decision to send officers from the state's Department of Public Safety (DPS) into Dallas in response to a spike in murders. Seven people were killed in 24 hours last weekend.

“Instead of listening to the voices from the community, the mayor of Dallas has chosen to get in a political bed with the governor of this state and engage in the politics of fear and scapegoating,” said Frederick D Haynes III, pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church. “We already knew given the realities of COVID that the possibility of uptick in crime and violence was real.”

It was the Dallas Police Department that requested the state's support. The mayor's office doesn't play a role in accepting or rejecting the extra help.

There is no doubt murders are up in Dallas. According to The Dallas Morning News, the city's had 220 homicides in 2020, which surpasses last year's totaland is the highest in more than a decade. Mayor Eric Johnson expressed frustration at what he sees as a surge in violent crime. Last year, Gov. Abbott deployed state troopers to Dallas after 40 killings in May of 2019.

Haynes is asking that state law enforcement officers leave. He and other community leaders fear DPS'presence will lead to over-policing and racial profiling. They make the case that states law-enforcement officers are hard to hold accountable and have no relationship with the community.

“My understanding is that DPS is not going to be providing any boots on the ground,” Johnson said. “They will not be adding to any police presence on the streets. They are only here to support our homicide doing investigations of crimes that have already been committed to help bring the perpetrator to justice.”

After the death of George Floyd this summer, the groups Faith in Action, Mothers Against Police Brutality, Our City Our Future and other groups have been urging the city to fund and support more community resources as opposed to putting more funding toward policing.

“We demand solutions that invest in our communities rather than continued criminalization and racist policing. We are vehemently opposed to this violent and ineffective response,” Our City Our Future co-founder Kristian Hernandez said.

This summer, the group called for major cuts to the Dallas Police Department budget. They proposed redirecting $200 million from police to fund community support services like mental health, housing, homeless assistance programs and public places. Advocates say this is what helps reduce crime.

“If you want outcomes to change in so-called crime areas then you have to change the conditions,” Mothers Against Police Brutality co-founder John Fullenwider said. “Changing the stressors of poverty and racism and bad health and bad housing are things that will actually help reduce crime.”

In addition, leaders brought up their summer six-week long meetings with Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins where they created a plan to fund alternative forms of public safety. Their solutions included violence interrupters, a program that came out of a city task force where credible individuals serve as conflict resolution experts, and mental health experts, who will team up with the police to respond to behavioral health calls.

“I am very hopeful that violence interrupter programs will be very effective in the City of Dallas as they’ve been in other places, which is why it was one of my top recommendations to be funded in this budget,” Mayor Johnson said.

The Dallas FY 2021 city budget did allocate money to both mental health experts and violence interrupters, but not a single violence interrupter has been hired yet, according to Johnson.

“Implementation is going to be key,” Johnson said. “In order for this program to be effective is that we have to keep it going. My hope is that we will very quickly, while following all our city protocols with respect to contracting, but we have to get folks hired and out in the community.”

Johnson said the city's efforts to reduce crime is equally focused on improving policing and thinking of the victims of violent crime.

Got a tip? Alejandra Martinez is a Report For America corps member and writes about the economic impact of COVID-19 on marginalized communities for KERA News. Email Alejandra at amartinez@kera.org. You can follow Alejandra on Twitter @_martinez_ale.

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Updated: November 24, 2020 at 7:17 PM CST
This story was updated to clarify that Dallas Police Department requested help from the Texas Department of Public Safety, and that the city's violence interrupters program was one of four recommendations from Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson's Taskforce on Safe Communities.
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