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Dallas City Council passes budget that leaves police funding in place

The Dallas City Council passed a new budget late Wednesday that keeps police funding in place despite loud calls to slash it, and while a crowd of marchers assembled outside City Hall to protest police violence.

Hours before the final vote, news broke that no officers would be held accountable for the shooting death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky. At one point, the meeting was briefly halted after protesters reached the City Hall parking garage.

The budget passed narrowly by a 9-6 vote after a more than 12-hour budget meeting and a bruising battle over conflicting priorities. The budget process was notable this year because it unfolded via remote telecommunication as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. It also stood in stark contrast to last year’s unanimous vote, passing by the thinnest margin since 2010.

Mayor Eric Johnson voted against it.

“Ultimately, in this pandemic, I could not support a budget in which we didn’t touch the bureaucracy and failed to share in the pain with residents in any discernible way,” he said in a statement issued close to midnight.

In passing the budget, council members spoke about working together and thanked residents for the overwhelming public input into this year’s budget process. But the vote largely came with a collective holding of noses.

Due to multiple amendments to the overall city budget, a final number for the police budget was unavailable late Wednesday night. But the more than $500 million approved for police is about a third of the general fund — the city’s discretionary budget that also pays for firefighters and other services for residents. City officials said the police budget is higher than the current fiscal year.

A majority of council members led the charge to cut police overtime by about a quarter — the most hotly-debated item. That amounted to $7 million, and it was chosen over Johnson’s proposal to slash “bloated” salaries at City Hall, a move he has called “defunding the bureaucracy.”

Johnson and police commanders said the city won’t be able to keep up with officer attrition from coming resignations and retirements because the coronavirus pandemic has restricted academy class sizes.

But under the overtime amendment, $3.8 million will be used to hire 95 civilians to replace police officers at desk jobs so they can return to street patrols. The rest of it will be used for other public safety measures such as street lighting, attempts to stop illegal dumping and addressing the drivers of poverty.

But the mayor and some other council members said crime won’t wait for the police department’s transition.

“Civilianization on this scale will take time, and our city needs help now,” Johnson said.

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