Dallas Urged to Cut Over a Third of Police Budget

Protesters clash with Dallas police officers on May 29, 2020. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

(CN) — Civil rights groups led by the American Civil Liberties Union called on Dallas officials Thursday to slash their police budget by 37% and restrict cops on the use of deadly force, two days after the police chief quit over her handling of this summer’s George Floyd protests and the city’s soaring violent crime rate.

Fifteen state and local groups submitted a report entitled “Dignity for Dallas: Advance Justice, Change Priorities, Invest in Communities” that asserts Black residents are “suffering disproportionately” at the hands of police. The report says Black people only make up 24% of the city’s population, yet constitute 53% of those killed by police and 49% of all arrests.

“The underlying problem with policing is not just a lack of training and procedures or a problem with ‘bad apples’ – it is the broadening of the scope and responsibilities of police, enabled by explaining budgets, that has spurred street-level harassment of communities of color, fueled mass incarceration, and led to the unlawful use of excessive force and killing of Black people,” the 18-page report states.

The groups want their proposed $200 million funding cut in next year’s city budget to be diverted into “non-police public health and safety initiatives,” including $16.8 million into civilian first responder programs. The groups want over $11 million to go to rental assistance, $5 million to housing grants, $5.8 million for sidewalk funding and $3.3 million for reparations for victims of police violence.

The report also calls for additional restrictions on the use of deadly force, arguing it is “still used in situations where it is truly not needed.”

“Officers shall not shoot their firearms if a suspect is unarmed; if a suspect is running away or attempting to withdraw; if a suspect is driving away or sitting in a parked car; if a suspect is not armed with a firearm – for example, when a suspect is holding a knife, screwdriver, or blunt object; and if the officer is alone – for example, after a solo foot chase,” the report states. “In the event that deadly force is used, officers shall not shoot multiple times at a suspect without re-evaluating the necessity of additional deadly force.”

John Fullinwider, co-founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality, said at a virtual press conference Thursday morning officers who are alone should not shoot a suspect who is not holding a firearm. He said officers without partners tend to be “panicky and use deadly force more” than officers with backup.

“Officers will empty their gun out or shoot more than once,” he said. “We need policies controlling the second bullet to cut the death toll without compromising safety.”

The recommended budget cuts are in spite of threats made by Republican Governor Greg Abbott to block Texas cities from raising their property tax rates if they defund their police departments. Abbott made the threat last month as a direct response to Austin officials cutting their police budget by a third and moving the money into non-police social programs.

The recommendations from the civil rights groups come two days after Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall resigned her post. She will stay on through the end of the year at the request of city manager T.C. Broadnax. Hall resigned after several city councilmembers blasted her last month for admitting that tear gas was used on residents protesting the killing of Floyd by Minneapolis police on May 25. Hall had steadfastly denied its use for over a month. The councilmembers cited a “lack of leadership” and a loss of trust with Hall.

The chief was forced to agree to a halt in firing tear gas and less-lethal ammunition at the nightly protests in June after two injured protesters sued her and the city in federal court.

In a separate incident, protester Brandon Saenz was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet at a May 30 protest in downtown. Images of Saenz lying on a sidewalk went viral, showing fellow protesters frantically trying to stop the blood pouring out of his head. Saenz has yet to sue the city or Hall, but his attorneys have demanded disclosure of the identity of the officer who blinded him.

Hall’s critics point to the city’s elevated crime rate this year. There were 209 murders in Dallas in 2019, a 30% increase over 2018. There have already been 139 murders so far in 2020 — almost identical to the murder rate of 2019. As of Aug. 24, there have been 5,015 assaults recorded in Dallas, which is more than the 4,078 recorded during the same period in 2019.

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