As Dallas City Council prepares to decide police funding again this year, Mayor Johnson unveiled his plan to address crime and increase police accountability.
“During the pandemic, I was a member of the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, and we collected data that showed aggravated assault rates in the U.S. increased 7%, gun assault rates went up by 22%, and homicides spiked by 24%. In Dallas, the numbers were even higher,” Johnson wrote.
In an interview with Texas Scorecard earlier this year, he discussed rising crime in the city and the importance of police accountability. On June 10, he unveiled his plan to address both—all without defunding police, a movement he opposed last year.
“Violent crime is up across the country, and underserved communities and minorities are disproportionately the victims,” Johnson wrote. “They deserve safety and justice.”
Johnson’s plan has been reviewed by Derek Cohen of Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Right on Crime, who said it’s definitely an improvement over the current situation.
“Mayor Johnson’s plan is certainly a step in the right direction, especially compared to the horrific mismanagement we see out of cities like Austin,” he told Texas Scorecard.
Below are the elements of Johnson’s plan divided into two sections: Police Reforms and Government Programs.
Johnson’s proposals are the following:
- “Demand and Develop Crime Reduction Plans.”
For the mayor, this means every year, the Dallas chief of police will present his strategy “to reduce violent crime” and interact with the community.
“This may seem simple, but when I became mayor in June 2019, it became apparent that the police brass of the ninth-largest city in the country simply didn’t have a comprehensive crime-reduction plan,” Johnson said. “I had to demand one.”
He says this information can help decide where to spend tax dollars, hold police accountable, and enable officials to tell citizens what’s being done.
- “Offer Competitive Pay for Police.”
“If we want good community policing, we must set high standards and pay accordingly,” Johnson said.
- “Improve accountability measures.”
Johnson calls for doubling down on body cameras, and that “a civilian police oversight board can be an important way to hold our police accountable.”
Questions have previously been raised about the effectiveness of civilian oversight boards, and Fort Worth Councilmember Cary Moon pointed out a 2016 study from the President Obama Administration that found they were ineffective. Moon said in Fort Worth, the elected mayor and city council serve as the police review board.
- “Expand training for police officers.”
“Police are expected to think like lawyers, criminologists, psychologists, and athletes,” Johnson continued. “No police department worth its salt should be adhering to only the minimum prescribed state standards as they exist now. Boost the requirements, give the best available training, and correct mistakes.”
“Implementing crime reduction plans through a well trained, well compensated, accountable police force is lightyears beyond the ideas of those who just want to tear down institutions for public safety,” Cohen said.
The rest of Johnson’s plan proposes addressing crime without the use of police.
- “Address environmental factors that cause crime.”
The Mayor’s Task Force on Safe Communities recommended “improving lighting and remediating blight in high-crime areas” as ways to reduce crime without the police.
- “Handle mental health calls the right way.”
“Police are not equipped well enough to deal with mental health emergencies,” Johnson said. “In Dallas, we have created and expanded our RIGHT (Rapid Integrated Group Healthcare Team) Care program, which deploys mental health professionals to calls, accompanied by police.”
“The mental health responders idea has great promise so long as it’s not at the expense of general enforcement capacity,” Cohen observed.
In a prior article, an activist mother shared how she prefers well-trained police officers to deal with calls involving her special-needs child, saying government mental health teams come with an agenda to put her child in a psych ward, regardless of what the parent wanted.
Tristan Hallman, Johnson’s Chief of Policy and Communications, was asked about this. “RIGHT Care only treats adults,” he replied.
- “Create and Expand Summer Jobs Programs.”
“One federally funded 2017 study showed that New York City’s Summer Youth Employment program participants were 17% less likely to be arrested during the summer and 23% less likely to be arrested for a felony,” Johnson said. “In Dallas, we are scaling up my summer jobs program for youth called Dallas Works and hope to see similar results.”
- “Provide counseling services, early and often.”
Johnson’s task force also recommended social and emotional learning curriculums in schools, and hiring “violence interrupters” in specific areas. Texas Scorecard asked the mayor’s office for clarification on what “violence interrupters” are and what they do.
“The violence interrupters and credible messengers are people who have shared backgrounds and experiences and have turned their lives around, using their social capital to help those they serve build theirs,” Hallman replied. “Youth Advocate Programs is hiring local violence interrupters and credible messengers in four Dallas neighborhoods that have high percentages of gun violence, illegal narcotics, and gang activity.”
“The community-based YAP employees will be engaged in the identified neighborhoods and will identify individuals who are most likely to become perpetrators or victims of crime,” he continued. “The violence interrupters and credible messengers will work with these individuals to determine who can benefit from educational, economic, and emotional support to divert them away from a life of violence.”
“As for the counseling and summer jobs ideas, I’m not aware of any supportive data programmatically, but these seem to target what are often correlates of crime,” Cohen said. “The question remains on if these variables are causal.”
The city has started the budget process for the 2021/2022 fiscal year and has an online survey to hear from citizens. Based on their actions last year, city council will likely vote on the Final 2021/2022 Budget in late September. Concerned citizens may contact their Dallas City Councilmembers and Mayor Johnson.