DALLAS – Protesters came at night, chanting and whistling outside the home of Mayor Eric Johnson, protesting in sometimes personal terms his categorical refusal to cut funding to the Dallas Police Department.
“Defund! Recover! Reinvest! About two dozen people called from the dark street of dallas. A few weeks later, the police chief resigned because of her management of large-scale events. Then the city council voted to reduce the amount the department could use for overtime and hiring new officers.
It was last year.
This year has been very different.
In American cities, the police are getting their money back. From New York to Los Angeles, departments that have seen their funding targeted amid nationwide protests against the murder of George Floyd last year have seen local leaders vote for increased police spending, with An additional $ 200 million allocated to the New York Police Department and a 3% increase given to the force of Los Angeles.
The sudden reversals came in response to the increase in the crime rate in major cities last year, the exodus of officers from departments large and small and political pressures. After cutting police spending last year, Austin restored the department’s budget and raised it to new heights. In Burlington, Vermont, the city that Senator Bernie Sanders once led as mayor has gone from cutting police budgets to approve bonuses of $ 10,000 for officers to stay on the job.
But perhaps nowhere has the contrast been more stark than in Dallas, where Mr Johnson not only offered to give money back to the department but also decided to increase the number of officers in the street, writing over the summer that “Dallas needs more cops. “
“Dallas stands out for the amount of investment that local government puts into the department,” said Laura Cooper, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.
After the mayor proposed to increase funding, no protests followed. When the Council supported a budget which restored many of the cuts made last year, few came to the public hearing, let alone spoke out against the plan, which included the hiring of 250 officers. It went through with a bang last month.
By prioritizing public safety, Mr Johnson, a Democrat, had linked his approach to that of other black leaders, such as Eric Adams, the Democratic candidate for mayor of New York, who views the police as a necessary element to help devastated neighborhoods. by crime. And he was inspired by his childhood experience in the black neighborhoods of Dallas.
“As an African-American man who came of age in the 1990s, I remember many people whose lives have been devastated by violence,” Mr Johnson said in an interview with City Hall. Dallas. “I don’t want to go back.
To combat the increase in violent crime last year – with homicides up 25% to 252, the highest point in two decades – Dallas has embarked on an old-fashioned approach: Police “Hot spots”. The strategy, which is based on the idea that a small number of places contains a large portion of a city’s crime, has been tried and tested across the country for decades. Criminologists have found that it helps reduce crime in areas identified as problematic.
So far in Dallas, the number of recorded homicides has declined slightly, and violent crime overall is down about 6% from the same period last year. But the approach to the hot spot remains a point of tension.
“Hotspot policing is a polarizing topic, especially in communities of color,” said Chief Eddie Garcia, who took over the Dallas department this year and developed the hotspot plan with outside researchers. “Nothing was working – we’re on to something that seems to be working. “
At the Kingz of Cutz barber shop in South Dallas, a predominantly black neighborhood where assault and theft is a problem, Gerard Claiborne, 49, was well aware of the idea and worried about its application.
“When you talk about hot spots, it’s always minority communities,” Mr. Claiborne, who is black, said while waiting for a client. “I can’t say his plan won’t work. But it is a more important solution which is necessary. For starters, he wanted to see more officer training, he said.
The barber shop was a place of mourning after its owner was shot two years ago. More recently, it has become a place where police officers occasionally hold informal meetings with local residents. On a recent visit, the region’s commander, Deputy Chief Osama Ismail, sat down for a haircut and razor shave while Lt. Leroy Quigg spoke about football with a client.
“They are trying to close that gap and humanize the ministry,” Claiborne said. “This is something that should have happened decades ago.”
The issue of policing in Dallas has been a delicate one for years. The force’s size dropped sharply in 2016 – to around 3,100 officers from around 3,600, after hundreds of officers left the ranks – mainly due to a retirement issue, officials said. In the same year, five officers were killed by a heavily armed sniper who targeted white officers during protests against the killing of black men by police.
At the same time, recent fatal assassinations by Dallas police officers have strained relations with the community. The department’s headquarters are on Botham Jean Boulevard, renamed earlier this year for the black man from Dallas who was shot dead at his home in 2018 by on leave Dallas policeman Amber Guyger, who took his apartment for the his.
More recently, the department was shaken by the deletion of a huge amount of police evidence data earlier this year, with around 22 terabytes representing some 17,000 cases. Officials were able to recover some of the data, but an official report published two weeks ago found that almost a third appeared to be permanently lost.
Mr. Garcia, who came to Dallas from San Jose, Calif., Was quick to improve officer morale. Fewer officers than expected have left the department this year, officials said.
But some supporters of local reform have complained that the department has become less open to working with those who want broader structural changes.
“Last year there was a lot of movement,” said Dominique Alexander, president of Next Generation Action Network, a Dallas-based civil rights organization. “With this new police chief, let’s go.”
Mr Alexander, who like the mayor grew up in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas, was among the protesters outside Mr Johnson’s home last year.
He said he had decided his group would not protest the mayor’s plan to increase police funding this year because he had renounced the local political system. Instead, Alexander said, he was preparing to file a law enforcement complaint in Dallas with the US Department of Justice.
The city, the ninth most populous in the country with 1.3 million people, has a history of racial conflict that can still be seen on its streets – including a Confederate cemetery tucked away in a black neighborhood in southern Dallas – and felt in its clear division between north and south. Above Interstate 30 is predominantly white. Below, mostly blacks and Hispanics. Above has experienced rapid economic development in recent years. Below, some still live without a municipal sewer service.
“The presence of the police can be a deterrent, but it is not the solution to getting rid of crime,” said Adam Bazaldua, 34, a progressive Democrat and the first Hispanic elected to city council in his south Dallas area. which was once predominantly black but now includes many Hispanic residents. In Dallas, black residents make up approximately 24 percent of the population, and Hispanics on 42 percent.
Mr Bazaldua said he was called a “defender” by his opponents last year because of his desire to shift funds from the police overtime budget and spend them on better street lighting, particularly along a section of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard where there are many boarded up businesses.
Mr Bazaldua faced several challengers for his re-election earlier this year, including one backed by the mayor, who believed his stance on police funding left him vulnerable. The police union even pulled out a notice board outside his home, Bazaldua said, warning that he had “voted to fund our police”.
But the policy of maintaining order in Dallas is not straightforward. He was nevertheless re-elected.
“All this myth that we are not supported by the people, these last elections have shown us that we are supported by the people,” said Mr Alexander, the advocate for reform.
The new funding approved by the council would be enough to add a net total of around 100 officers over the next two years, even with attrition, officials said. The budget also provided more money for alternatives to police intervention, such as specialized teams trained to handle 911 calls for people in mental health distress.
Although crime has tended to decline this year, violence remains a major concern for residents of the city’s many low-income apartment complexes.
The Rosemont Apartments on Meadow Street appear from the outside to be a well-maintained, gated complex with a swimming pool and adjoining beige townhouse-style apartments. But the door is broken, it stays open all the time and the swimming pool is off-limits, residents said. Ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft refuse to enter.
“I was broken into there,” said Teaira Thigpen, 28, pointing to the parking area a few steps from her front door. Over the summer, a man grabbed his purse and tried to drive off, but it caught on her shoulder, and Ms Thigpen said she was dragged by the car, him breaking three ribs and healing his legs.
As she spoke, her son, who is 5, played with a group of other children. “Her father was shot here, in the same place, in broad daylight,” she said. “I want to move because my children are immune to gunfire. Another man, who she said had been shot recently in the same area, was sitting in a wheelchair nearby.
Her son wants to be a police officer, Ms Thigpen said, showing a photo of him in a Halloween costume as an officer. ” I am here for this. We are not against them, ”she added. “He knows good and bad. “