DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Debate over cutting the Dallas Police Department’s overtime spending continues to build before council members take their final vote on the city’s budget for next year.
On Tuesday afternoon, a group of 40 area Republican party leaders and members held an hour-long “defend the police” protest in front of Dallas City Hall.
At the rally, Troy Jackson, Area Director of the Texas GOP asked attendees, including former Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson, “Do you see our police officers around? Give them a round of applause. Celebrate them.”
The group opposes a budget amendment already approved by a majority of council members to cut a quarter of DPD’s overtime budget, $7 million.
The department’s overall budget as proposed by City Manager T.C. Broadnax is more than $516 million, while the general fund budget is more than $1.4 billion.
Leading up to Wednesday’s vote, five former Council Members, Rickey Callahan, William Blaydes, Jerry Allen, Gary Griffith and Mary Poss, who also served as Acting Mayor, wrote a letter to current council members expressing their concerns about the reduction in police overtime.
“We are urging you to reconsider your proposed $7 million cut from Dallas Police Department’s overtime budget,” the letter said.
In an interview Tuesday, Griffith said what the majority of council members are doing is defunding the police.
“Anytime you take resources away from the police, you’re defunding them, and it’s pretty clear,” said Griffith. “I’m really stunned that we found ourselves in Dallas, where historically we’ve really supported the police department and we champion public safety and we want safe neighborhoods, safe businesses, safe streets, safe school, and that a back away from that just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Council Member Adam Bazaldua, who made the proposal along with six other council members, Paula Blackmon, Chad West, Tennell Atkins, Omar Narvaez, David Blewett and Mayor Pro Tem Adam Medrano, insisted otherwise.
Bazaldua said, “A lot of people look at this as a negative when it’s not. This is not a punishment at the police. This is a way for us to better utilize resources.”
Mayor Eric Johnson has sharply criticized the idea, and so has Governor Greg Abbott, who blasted city council members during a news conference in Austin earlier this month.
He and the other council members proposed a new amendment that if approved, would continue to reduce DPD’s overtime budget by $7 million, but change how that money is spent from their original amendment.
It would have DPD hire 95 civilians for more than $3.85 million and move 95 officers into patrol.
Bazaldua said, “What that does is puts 95 more officers on the street, it should be a direct impact to our response time and also lighten the demand for the need of the overtime that we have budgeted currently.”
He said this would increase the ratio of non-sworn to sworn staff from 14.7% to 18%, which was a recommendation of the KPMG staffing study, and do so at an accelerated rate.
But Griffith said DPD overtime is higher now than ten years ago because the department has hundreds of fewer officers.
“Overtime fills the gap when you don’t have the officers on the street. So it’s critical to restore that $7 million,” said Griffith.
Bazaldua points to a letter former Council Member Vonciel Jones Hill sent Mayor Eric Johnson and most council members.
She asked the Mayor to stop using the term defunding of the police.
“The council members are not proposing “defunding.” Rather, they are saying – very simply – reduce the overtime budget. Those two categorizations are significantly and fundamentally different,” Jones Hill said.
She said during the challenging budget cycles of 2008-2010, council members placed sworn officers in positions civilians had served in an order to save those officers’ jobs.
She said that was not meant to be permanent, and that council members knew at some point the police department would have to hire more civilians.
The council members would also take some of the overtime money and increase spending to improve street lighting in high crime areas, which was recommended by the Mayor’s Task Force On Safer Communities.
They would also include funding for violence interrupters, combating illegal dumping, and address the drivers of poverty.
Originally, the proposal would have shifted more than $4.3 million of the $7 million to non-public safety related programs, including bike lanes, a community solar program, and the Bishop Arts Theater.
Bazaldua said, “All of my colleagues would have liked to be able to call this a public safety amendment, which is to focus on efficiency, which is the message that we’ve been trying to get across from the very beginning.”
But Jackson disagreed.
“Of course, they need more light in some areas. But that shouldn’t come out of the police budget. That should come out of streets. That’s why we have a streets department.”
Griffith cited the rising number of murders and non family-violence aggravated assaults.
DPD records show that year to date through Monday, September 21, there have been 167 murders in Dallas.
That’s up nearly four percent during the same period last year when there were 161.
Last year, there were 200 murders, a high in the past decade.
The non family-violence aggravated assaults have jumped by nearly 28 percent year to date from last year to this year.
Griffith said the proposed crime prevention programs should be separate from the overtime budget.
“Make those other changes is fine. I don’t argue against them. But that’s a separate issue than restoring the overtime.”
Bazaldua disagreed, saying, “I don’t believe that you need to continue to invest in a high budgeted over time and then also worry about how we can address it, because that’s just continuing to put more and more money into a model that we have to take, pump the brakes a little bit, and reevaluate. After that assessment is done through data, see how we can better utilize our resources, and that’s all this is.”
During the council’s Public Safety Committee meeting last week, Police Chief Renee Hall said despite what happens with the budget vote, officers will still protect and serve.
If necessary, she said the department will return to council members and request more money for overtime.
The new budget begins October 1.