Dallas council examines public safety funding in proposed 2021 budget

In a year filled with calls to defund police, Dallas councilmembers debated Tuesday if next year's budget does enough to re-imagine policing or if it neglects to properly fund public safety.

Dallas' first proposed budget since the pandemic hit has no drastic cuts to services, thanks in part to federal assistance. While city leaders say the city is not defunding police, some steps are being taken to shift resources away from law enforcement and toward social services.

“I want to thank those around the horseshoe who sent memorandums making it clear Dallas is not going to defund or disband our police department,” said T.C. Broadnax, Dallas City Manager.

Skeptics say the city's budget tells a different story.

Sworn positions would be reduced from 3,150 to 3,040 by 2022 and low priority calls would be transferred to other city departments. A promised 2.5 percent market rate increase in pay, would not be given.

“There are clearly large areas we are not funding police at what we had projected and believed we would,” said Mayor Pro Tem Adam McGough.

“How do we think it is a good idea to not continue with market adjustments when that is what got us into insufficient staff? No. 2 -- it is a contract we made,” said councilwoman Cara Mendelsohn.

Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata has concerns about proposals to divert some situations to civilians.

“We all agree we need more transparency, better training, hiring better qualified, get rid of those who don't belong. But you don’t get rid of cops or law and order or you have Chicago or Seattle. I don't think residents will allow that in the city of Dallas,” Mata said.

While reducing the number of sworn DPD officers, the city is planning to form a mobile crisis response team with 25 social workers to support police.

The city is also proposing to hire 11 case workers for public intoxication incidents, to connect people with recovery services, instead of being arrested.

“A lot of the way we de-escalate is by consequences, which is someone is charged with a crime or arrested,” Mata said.

Some city council members expressed concerns about an explosion in panhandling, with councilman Lee Kleinman asking if they could be detained by police and potentially put in jail. Kleinman said his constituents wanted to see enforcement.

“That is not most advisable strategy. Again, we are trying to divert people from incarceration,” Broadnax said.

Broadnax present a balanced $3.8 million budget for the next fiscal year to the council. He reaffirmed the property tax rate adopted for this fiscal year will remain the same.

To help balance the budget, he asked every department to trim its budget by 10 to 13% and the city is not giving any merit raises this year.