Effective crime reduction strategies must be proactive and unwavering. And the message from the top is as important as the tactics on the ground.
One of the most surprising and troubling public debates this year involves crime fighting in Dallas. The truth is that we may be in the midst of a decision about the overarching philosophy of how best to police our city and create long-term, sustainable gains against a new spike in violent crime.
The stats themselves are disturbing.
Dallas is on pace to end the year with about 228 homicides, the highest annual total in the past decade, and nearly double the 116 homicides the city recorded in 2014.
But what is, perhaps, more troubling is that the immediate response of some in city is to call for Police Chief U. Renee Hall to be cashiered. This is troubling because she’s been on the job less than two years and is the person in the best position to respond to and reverse this slide. The question is, of course, whether she is the leader who can accomplish that task.
Rather than instantly calling for her to lose her post, the city should be pressing her on what precisely her plan is and, more important, that she better articulate what her crime-fighting philosophy is.
Hall, referring to the jail, has said repeatedly that “Lew Sterrett is still open.” Her point is that her officers continue to make arrests and otherwise press forward. She also recently told council members that the department has a plan to address gangs, guns and drugs, and intensify collaboration with other law enforcement agencies. A big part of the plan is to execute warrants in eight high-crime areas in far northeast Dallas, near Fair Park, Far East Dallas, Pleasant Grove, the Red Bird area in southern Dallas and at three locations in Oak Cliff. In other words, she’s deploying officers into areas where the crime rate is particularly high.
So why are we experiencing this spike in 2019? Slow response times, a shrinking force and a disbanded vice unit plagued the department throughout 2018. Yet, murders in Dallas last year fell to 156 from 162 in 2017. This new trend needs a better explanation than we’ve had so far.
Hall’s command staff recently told The Dallas Morning News’editorial board that car thefts are up and offenders are more mobile, increasingly younger and gang-affiliated. In response, the department is redeploying resources to add 10 more enforcement officers and a supervisor to the gang unit to create another squad. They also are looking at gun records in an attempt to cut off the flow of illegal firearms at the source, working with the district attorney’s office on stronger prosecution of gun offenses and improving intelligence-sharing with gang units in neighboring cities.
That’s all to the good, of course, but will it be enough? Our thought is that public leadership is also crucial here. City officials — including Chief Hall — need to be clear and resolute in saying criminal activity will not be tolerated. What’s more, words need to be matched by action. That includes City Manager T.C. Broadnax building a budget that reflects hiring more officers.
The department is working on recruitment, but a central component of its success is to find new officers to replace those who are leaving and finding officers who want to be in a city as large as Dallas, even if the pay is higher elsewhere. That likely means demonstrating to potential new officers that they will join a force that offers pathways to advancement and interesting police work and operates under good leadership. Dallas needs more police officers, and the chief, whoever it is, needs to use them more efficiently.
If arresting criminals is the only approach to fighting crime, our city will probably fail to reverse the trend that has unnerved many residents this year. But placing handcuffs on suspects and convicting those who are guilty is an essential component to any strategy of reducing crime. The next six months will be critical in assessing the effectiveness of Hall’s efforts. The public needs to have confidence in the city’s approach to crime, and at the moment much may depend on whether Hall has the right approach and whether she gets the support she needs to be successful.
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