Fort Worth mayoral candidate Deborah Peoples included “defund the police” as part of how she would address rising crime in the city, which would mean joining Austin and Dallas in affecting police finances. On Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made preventing defunding the police an emergency priority this legislative session, and some other mayoral candidates publicly stood against “defunding.”

Peoples, who is the chair of the Tarrant County Democrat Party, hosted a “virtual chat” January 26 and was asked about rising crime in the city.

“I think we have to sit down and look at it and look at the categories it went up in,” she replied. “And then we have to talk about [the] whole issue [that] came up about reprioritizing funding to the police, or defund the police.”

Fort Worth Councilman Cary Moon reported the year 2020 had a 58 percent spike in homicides compared with 2019, adding it was “the worst in 25 years.” Crime also increased in Texas’ four other major cities last year.

Peoples said the “defund” movement is about “looking at where we could move dollars—good, common-sense dollars—from the police and militarizing the police to good community policing programs.”

“There could be programs around mental health intervention, or there could be programs around domestic violence intervention,” Peoples continued. “All of those things are monies that right now, currently, the police department is trying to manage. And we could look at moving those to other programs that would be just as successful or even more successful because you could concentrate on specific things.”

A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found a correlation between government economic shutdowns in response to the Chinese coronavirus and spikes in domestic violence.

In a prior interview, Derek Cohen, director of Texas Public Policy Foundation’s criminal justice reform campaign Right on Crime, said mental health programs don’t eliminate the need for police. “Even if everyone were to receive MH (mental health) treatment, that doesn’t obviate the need for front-end enforcement,” he said.

Last year, Jackie Schlegel and Krista McIntire raised concerns over how expanding mental health programs would affect individual liberty and shared their experience in dealing with a lack of service.

Austin’s city council defunded their police, raiding $150 million of taxpayer monies from the police budget, while Dallas City Council cut $7 million from their police overtime budget. None of the other major Texas cities followed suit, but this week, Abbott made preventing defunding police an emergency item for the Texas Legislature.

Fort Worth’s city council and mayoral elections are this May. Mayoral candidates Brian Byrd and Ann Zadeh didn’t respond to press inquiries about Peoples’ comment or their plan to address rising crime.

“Defunding the police will not happen under my watch,” candidate Mattie Parker told Texas Scorecard. “In June, Fort Worth residents voted enthusiastically to approve a 10-year extension of the Crime Control and Prevention District. Furthermore, our department is now led by Chief Neal Noakes and a command staff that is already committed to making significant investments in public safety that include crime prevention, mental health services and enhanced community policing, and expansion of efforts like our Crisis Intervention Team.”

“Fort Worth has promising days ahead, and the community, our officers, and all leaders must be committed to unifying our city while also making public safety a top priority with appropriate police funding and additional training for our officers,” Parker continued, adding she has “full confidence” in the police’s professionalism. “Now is the time to stand strong with our officers, not defund the police and risk the safety of our families, schools, and businesses.”

Other candidates also replied.

“I will never defund the police department or have any of the police budget be diverted to other programs outside of the department,” candidate Chris Rector replied. “We also don’t need civilians answering routine calls; that is a recipe for disaster. A lot of routine calls are the total opposite of that, as I can attest to as a former deputy sheriff in another state.”

Rector also supports increasing the number of patrol officers using taxpayer funds from the Crime Control and Prevention District sales tax.

“Statistics show that more than half of this percentage are crimes created by someone who has been a part of the Tarrant County system for previous crimes, making this a city issue and trend,” candidate Mike Haynes wrote. “Programs for the youth and adults to utilize resources to find housing and employment and funding is something we should move toward as a city.”

“I will create jobs that are background-friendly, to create positive activity and lifestyles from our residents,” he said, adding that “felony-friendly jobs and opportunities are needed as well.”

Haynes said providing these opportunities should lower the crime rate percentage to single digits. “I will also create housing for the homeless to make an impact in decreasing this number,” he added.

Citizens can watch Peoples’ complete reply here. Fort Worth elections are on May 1.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.