As the 2021 election season ramps up, Dallas District 9 Councilmember Paula Blackmon is walking back her prior support of the “Defund the Police” movement, while continuing to argue for aspects of it, and attacking a citizen organization confronting her for voting to cut $7 million from police overtime.
Last year, Blackmon supported fellow Councilmember Adam Bazaldua’s motion to raid $7 million of taxpayer money from the Dallas Police overtime budget to grow other government programs, such as the arts and green energy. She later voted for Bazaldua’s amendment to use most of those funds to swap 95 officers from desk work to patrol by hiring an equal number of civilians.
Last June, she even went so far as to send a letter to City Manager T.C. Broadnax, asking him to “present options that reallocate public safety funding to equitable community funding for Council discussion during the already-scheduled June 17th Budget-Workshop.”
“Some of [our law enforcement officer’s] duties are societal problems that are not best solved with policing but rather with meaningful and equitable community investments,” she wrote.
In her letter to Broadnax, Blackmon said the following of the “Defund the Police” movement:
We understand that this call is a demand to address the deep root of our nation’s unjust practices and institutions and the need for us, as a city, to repair the harm of structural oppression. It is time to reimagine public safety.
Since then, Blackmon has walked back somewhat while still pushing certain aspects of the “defund” movement.
At a digital District 9 candidate forum March 9, put on by the White Rock Lake Task Force, Blackmon—who recently was “proudly endorsed” by the Stonewall Democrats of Dallas—was asked about public safety.
“I am supportive of the police,” Blackmon said.
“Yes, we do need more officers,” she continued. “We need to have different options of policing rather than just arresting.”
An example of this she mentioned was using RIGHT Care—a partnership of social workers, “specially-trained paramedics,” and police officers—to handle mental health calls instead of just the police, and increasing lighting within the city.
Jackie Schlegel of Texans for Vaccine Choice and Krista McIntire, a consultant on issues involving Child Protective Services, have argued well-trained police officers handle mental health situations far better than government mental health professionals.
“We have to have an adequate staffing ratio, and that does include putting civilians in places where we can put our police officers back on the streets,” Blackmon continued.
Some of the areas she mentioned civilians could take over were handling open records requests and media relations. Blackmon also said Dallas must look at “how are police using modern technology and information.”
Judy Kumar, one of the candidates challenging Blackmon for re-election, responded to her plan.
“We should not expect to have civilian social workers go into dangerous areas where they’re not protected by police, because they do not have the physical training to deal with someone who’s coming down from meth, PCP, or things like that,” Kumar said. “I’m also rather wary of having civilian groups act [in a] sort of legal manner of detaining people and arresting, because who’s appointing them to do so?”
Blackmon also discussed police funding.
“We increased our police budget by $15 million,” she said. “They’re projected to get even more money in the next budget.”
“Well, Paula it’s so nice to hear that you rethought the way you were funding the police after the disaster that happened this summer,” Kumar said during her response.
John Botefuhr, another candidate in the race, also confronted Blackmon on her vote to cut police overtime.
“We have about 2,900 officers right now; that’s down from 3,500 just ten years ago,” Botefuhr said. “On an under-manned police force we’re taking away their overtime, which is essentially taking money out of people who are overworked because we don’t have enough, and now we’re moving $7 million off into another direction.”
“We had 98 cops who were sick with COVID and were unable to serve,” Kumar added. “That’s 3 percent of our police force.”
“I believe wholeheartedly we should not only restore the full funding of police, we need to increase the funding so that they can engage in things like foot patrols and bicycle patrols,” Kumar continued.
On March 10, Blackmon issued a statement that also appears to conflict with her words and actions last year.
She wrote “I DO NOT support ‘defunding’ the police” and attacked citizen-organization Keep Dallas Safe, claiming they “attempted to distort my votes regarding the $7 million in reserve police overtime pay.” She adds that she “promised at the time that this money would be added back to the budget if the current reserves prove not enough.”
Blackmon went on to frame KDS as a “secret, and dishonest group,” as well as a “front group for extremist, reality-denying, political operatives.”
“The fact remains that Blackmon and 10 of her fellow council members consciously chose to remove needed funds at a time of crisis and violence,” Amy Gibson, a spokesperson for KDS, wrote in a statement. “What Keep Dallas Safe is asking, is for the council to provide a specific plan to address the violence and vandalism they have allowed to occur.”
The same day her statement was released, Texas Scorecard sent Blackmon questions regarding her vote on police overtime, and regarding policy accountability and transparency. No response was received before publication time.
Early voting for the May 1 election runs from April 19 through April 27. All 14 Dallas City Council seats are on the ballot.