Dallas County DA defends criminal justice reform efforts to Dallas councilmembers

Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot defended his criminal justice reform efforts on Monday to members of the Dallas City Council’s public safety and criminal justice committee.

While some members supported what Creuzot is trying accomplish, most indicated they weren't happy with the way he's gone about explaining the process.

The briefing started with an attempt at damage control from the new DA.

“Let me apologize, I can't apologize enough publicly. The way this was written was confusing and totally my fault,” Creuzot said. “This confusion and lack of understanding -- I'm going to take personal responsibility for.”

Some members of the public safety committee expressed their disappointment with Creuzot's decision to release a list of reforms before discussing with them first.

 “All of our public servants we want to make sure that there is communication and that no one is blindsided and I can't stress that enough,” said councilwoman Carolyn King Arnold.

“We agree with a lot of reform but we have a lot of questions and concerns,” said councilwoman Jennifer Staubach-Gates.

One of the biggest is the DA's decision not to prosecute "theft of personal items" less than $750 unless the evidence shows it was for economic gain.

“I think we're not really considering the business owner in all of this,” said councilwoman Sandy Greyson.

A Dallas business advocate echoed that concern and voiced another.

“We are concerned about the criminal trespass piece, how it effects small business and extremely concerned about the thefts of necessity,” said Jim Lake Jr.

Lake is a part of an organization that represents most corporations along the Stemmons Freeway corridor, including the Medical District and Hilton Anatole. Lake says the area is overrun with trespassers who harass customers and employees.

Cruezot said there are too many trespassers already locked up who instead need homeless services and mental health referrals. But Lake is worried that not prosecuting criminal trespass will hurt the area even more.

The president of the Dallas Police Association said he understands the concern of businesses.

“[Creuzot] calls them statistics, we call them crime victims. He wants to gather statistics and we'll get back to you in six months. Well what do tell the six months’ worth of crime victims? That's my problem,” Mata said.

Fifteen local police chiefs said Monday they co-signed a letter that explains their worries about Creuzot's plan. The letter points out the theft policy was not discussed with their departments before it was released.

It says, in part, "refusing to prosecute certain crimes, hampers our abilities to evaluate each criminal offense individually."

Irving Police Chief Jeff Spivey spoke about the department's first case dismissed Friday under the new policy.

“That defendant had 27 prior arrests 18 prior convictions and if we're going to just say that we're going to do away with the criminal justice system that these folks don’t have to pay any consequences, at what point are they going to change their behavior,” Spivey said.

Creuzot reiterated that none of his policies are set in stone.

“We may have disagreements and fears about this policy or the other, but I think a lot of that is more fear then reality. But time will tell and if we need to make adjustments we will,” Creuzot said.

At the urging of councilman Kevin Felder, Creuzot said he set up a date and time to speak at community meetings in those districts where he's invited to attend.