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Dallas mayor urges police chief to be more ambitious on crime reduction goals

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson and other council members on Monday criticized the police department’s crime reduction plan and urged the chief to establish more aggressive goals after the city’s most violent year since 2007.

Police Chief U. Reneé Hall on Monday afternoon briefed the full council at the Public Safety Committee meeting, where the city’s elected officials peppered her with questions and criticized her strategy to decrease violent crime by 5 percent. In Southeast, Southwest and South Central patrol divisions, the goal is a 10% drop in murders and aggravated assaults.

Johnson said he wants to see the city’s crime rates return to 2018 levels — which means a 16% reduction in aggravated assaults, a 13% drop in robberies and 17% fewer homicides.

Hall said a 10% reduction in overall violent crime would mean 971 fewer victims in the city.

“I have been clear since I first read the plan that a target of a 5% citywide reduction in violent crime is not going to cut it for me,” Johnson said. “If it’s unreasonable to return to where our city stood just one year ago … then I would like to hear why.”

The public safety meeting — Hall’s first since releasing DPD’s 2020 crime plan — comes after another violent weekend in Dallas in which two were wounded during a shootout at a high school basketball game between South Oak Cliff and Kimball and three people were murdered in separate incidents. So far this year, there have been about eight murders, including the fatal shooting of a 1-year-old boy.

Last year, the city topped more than 200 murders — the highest rate since 2007.

Hall’s 26-page crime reduction report outlines a data-driven strategy to reduce violent crime by improving coordination with local agencies and using better intelligence gathering.

The department’s plans to use risk terrain modeling, a form of predictive policing, will help officers zero in on places with high crime, she said.

“We are going back to some of the same locations over and over again,” Hall said.

The goals, which were based on historical crime data, were supposed to be realistic, she said. Officials can change the goal as the year progresses, Hall said, adding that she can increase that to 10%.

“The 5% initial goal was a floor, never a ceiling,” Hall said. “We are confident in this plan. We believe in it. We believe we are going to exceed it.”

But council member Cara Mendelsohn, who represents Far North Dallas, blasted the plan Monday as a strategy that lacks any specifics about implementation or ambition.

She said it was “embarrassing” to see DPD’s reduction plan compared to the mayor’s volunteer task force, which provided more information on costs and research behind the recommendations.

“I think it’s outrageously low to have a 5% goal,” Mendelsohn said. “If you don’t make a goal, well that’s OK. But if your goal is only 5%, guess what — that is probably the best we’re ever going to do.”

Council members also slammed Hall’s plan for proposing that an outside agency conduct a “cultural assessment” of the police department in the next fiscal year. The crime reduction plan didn’t disclose any specifics, but Hall’s presentation to the council included the assessment as a $300,000 cost.

In a news conference Monday, Hall said the assessment could look at cultural issues in the department, such as officer views on the job and strategies, police misconduct and accountability.

“As police chief, you see it. But what we need to know is what the drivers are. Where is this culture and how is it manifested?” Hall said. “The assessment will tell us how to change to where we need to be.”

Adam McGough, the committee’s chairman, called the idea “crazy.”

“If we don’t know what the culture is at this point in time, spending another $300,000 to figure it out isn’t what we need to do,” McGough said.

The plan, he said, had serious deficiencies, and the strategy lacked vision, specifics on how to measure its success and input from community leaders.

Carolyn King Arnold, who is vice chairwoman of the Public Safety Committee, criticized council members for complaining about Hall’s plan instead of taking steps to curb crime.

“The city must bear some culpability in this scenario,” she said.

Arnold, who represents part of southern Dallas, defended the police chief on Monday. She said it’s unfair to pin the city’s violent crime problem solely on Hall, who said most of it stems from guns, gangs and drugs.

“This is too serious of a matter to begin to put it at the foot of an individual or some individuals,” Arnold said. “We are in it together.”

Mayor Pro Tem Adam Medrano, who represents Deep Ellum and parts of downtown, also said council members hold some responsibility in the city’s crime response.

“I think it’s great that council members can call out how many crimes have increased in your district, but what are you doing about it?” Medrano asked. “I take it personally. … I encourage everyone around here to do that. Instead of barking out numbers, get to work.”

Council member Omar Narvaez, who represents West Dallas, agreed with Medrano and said it will take a team effort to decrease violent crime.

Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates, who represents North Dallas, also said the plan was “a start” but believes it should go further.

“I don’t know if it could ever be ambitious enough because we don’t want any crime,” Gates said. “It probably leans to trying to be more realistic, but I would like those numbers to be more ambitious.”

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