My Take on Officer Powell’s Actions

I don’t know that there’s much more to add about the DPD incident in which an officer (Powell) prevented a man (Moats) from seeing his dying mother-in-law in her last moments. I am so glad this was captured on video so there is no question about what happened. The self-control Mr. Moats displayed is amazing. I don’t know if I could have reacted with such a level head in the face of that kind of cruel, irrational behavior.

Some people have questioned whether this incident is reason enough to fire this officer. The fact is, it is an incredible responsibility to be a police officer. The authority and power that comes with it require considerable restraint and good judgment, neither of which was displayed here. Continue reading

Today at the City Council meeting….

Here are some highlights from today’s council meeting:

Apartments Crime Reduction Program – We approved an ordinance that will require apartment complexes with excessive crime rates to participate in a mandatory crime reduction program administered and enforced by the Police Department. Run-down apartments are a breeding ground for crime, so this new program is absolutely critical. As I said today, though, we can’t make crime prevention a burden that’s born solely by our police; we must invest MUCH more in code enforcement.

Little Forest Hills Conservation District – (District 9) On Councilmember Kadane’s motion, we denied this CD. On zoning cases, I generally defer to the councilmember who represents that district because (1) I believe the voters in that district elected that person to reflect their values (which will be reflected in the councilmember’s zoning decision), (2) voters can vote out someone who makes zoning decisions they don’t agree with, (3) that councilmember has usually worked closely with the community on zoning cases and can best represent their position. I am very supportive of CDs because I’ve seen in my own neighborhood how beneficial it’s been. Someone at the meeting suggested that CDs reduce property values. The facts belie that claim: property values have risen significantly in the M Streets and other CDs in our city; people like the certainty of knowing what type of development can go up around them. Councilmember Kadane had asked the LFH CD proponents to attain 65% support from all residents, and they fell short, with 58%. I know how hard their worked, and my heart goes out to them. I hope LFH is able to find another way to protect their trees and keep themselves “funky,” such as through a planned development district, as was suggested today. Otherwise, I fear we’ll lose what is one of the coolest neighborhoods in our city.

Goodwill Drop-Off on Haskell – Here, Goodwill wanted to put in a small building that would serve as a drop-off for donations. It wouldn’t have had any retail component at all. Surrounding neighbors worried about an increase in traffic on an already busy street, as well as the possibility that people would drop things off while the site was closed, resulting in litter and a haven for the homeless or theives. I worked with Goodwill and the neighborhood for months to try to reach a compromise, and delayed this case more than once. As a matter of right, Goodwill could put in a retail store today without special dispensation from the city, and that is a more intense use than a drop-off. However, at the end of the day, 41 property owners voted “no,” and 41 voted “yes.” With such a split, I couldn’t justify a zoning change. To me, the zoning on the ground is the default, and the property owner has to show a compelling reason to change it. Part of that reason may be that the neighborhood strongly supports the change. Here, that wasn’t the case, and I couldn’t support a zoning change. Goodwill is such an amazing organization and does so much for our city. I wish the neighbors had been able to reach a compromise here.

Far West SUP – Residents near the Far West club at Gaston/Grand had grown frustrated with problems stemming from the club — crime, noise, traffic, etc. Usually, bars have to have a short-term “specific use permit” that lets them operate under certain conditions. The SUP process involves a public hearing and approval of the City Council. A bar that causes problems runs the risk of the neighbors opposing the renewal of the SUP, so the bar has an incentive to be a good neighbor. That is dependent on an SUP that expires every couple of years. Here, for whatever reason, the City Council gave the predecessor to Far West a 99-year SUP. That’s nuts. At the request of the neighborhoods I recommended the city reduce the time period for the SUP and put other restrictions in place. After working cooperatively with the club owner and residents, we were able to reach an agreement on a 5-year SUP with traffic and safety requirements. I’m very proud that we were able to make this change.

Dog Run for CityVet on McKinney – I postponed this for a month so the applicant can work with the surrounding neighbors on trying to reach a compromise.

GPS System for Garbage Trucks – At a cost of $700k, the GPS system is supposed to help track trucks, reduce inefficiencies, and save money. That sounds good, but having ridden on a garbage truck, I saw firsthand some of the problems our sanitation workers encounter that slow them down: overgrown alleys being #1. If we cleared the problem alleys, we’d speed up service and prevent our men from speeding down streets to make up for lost time (not that they should be speeding anyway). I don’t really think we’ve got the money to do this, given today’s economy, but if we do have an extra $700k, I think we should spend it on giving our sanitation workers a raise. They make minimum wage right now, and $700k would almost get them to a living wage (a $3/hr. increase). Alternatively, we could spend that on cleaning up alleys, or hiring 1-2 mechanics that are needed to fix air-conditioners and heaters in the trucks (that are frequently broken). A majority of the council, including me, voted to postpone the matter and have a briefing to get more info.

UNT Law School in Downtown We unanimously authorized the City Manager to enter into final negotiations with the University of North Texas to establish a law school in what is currently the city courthouse. (We desperately need a new courthouse and will include that in the 2010 bond program.) The legislature has to approve the law school, but I am very hopeful that it will pass this session.

Lastly, I’m not shy about speaking up when I disagree with the Mayor, so I want to take a moment to compliment him on the way he handles public hearings. One, he is very respectful of the time people take out of their schedules to come down to City Hall, and tries to move up cases involving large groups of people. Before I was elected, I remember coming to City Hall and spending 8 hours waiting for our neighborhood’s case to be heard. This is a welcome change.

Two, even when a group’s time to speak before the Council has expired, the Mayor lets opponent/advocates come to the microphone and enter their name and opinion into the record. This takes a little time, especially with large groups, but I think it really shows a great courtesy to citizens who have taken off work to spend their afternoon at City Hall.

Good News — Crime Hasn’t Been This Low in Dallas Since the 1960s!

We’ve got a lot of work to do to make Dallas a safer city, but I was really pleased by the report I received this week on crime reduction for 2008. Basically, Dallas’ crime rate is lower than it’s been since the 1960s, and the total NUMBER of murders — not just per capita — is also the lowest it’s been since that tie-dyed era. Continue reading

What’s the City Doing to Make Dallas Safer?

I share the frustration that, yet again, Dallas appears at the top of the pack for crime. But I take issue with the argument I’ve read elsewhere that “the City of Dallas won’t dedicate the resources necessary to reduce the crime rate.”

The issue is not one of funding. The Council is adding $40M in next year’s budget for 100 more cops, new police cars, a new computer dispatch system, and more 911 operators.

But, you say, we need even MORE cops. And you’re absolutely right. But the problem isn’t that the Council won’t fund more police. The problem is that we can’t get that many QUALIFIED recruits to fill more than 100 positions a year (assuming we can fill that many).

Keep in mind, we lose about 150 cops a year to retirement, resignations, etc., and we’ve got to fill not only their positions, but hire an additional 100 on top of that. In years past, we just haven’t had enough qualified recruits to fill the positions.

There are two keys to addressing this problem. First, we have to increase bonuses/other benefits to lure recruits. This year, the council approved a $10,000 recruit bonus (which they get over 18 months), and this has already resulted in a significant increase in applicants. (In my opinion, if recruits don’t remain with Dallas, and head to the suburbs after we trained them, they should pay us back.)

Second, we must increase police benefits and pay to make their compensation comparable to surrounding areas. Again, the council approved a good compensation package for police and fire earlier this year, which was supported by all the police associations.

We can and must go further with a strong compensation package for our DPD, to retain and attract the best police officers, and these measures are a good beginning.

Lastly, Dallas’ crime rate is going down. I know this doesn’t change the fact that compared to other cities, we have a long ways to go. But the fact is, the efforts of our new police chief and investment by the Council are paying off.

If you’ve got ideas about improving public safety, I welcome them.

City Proposes Police Pay Raises

Today the Council was briefed on a proposal to increase police pay so that we can (1) attract new recruits and (2) retain our experienced officers. Having more police officers is critical to reducing crime in our city. Our police chief has done a great job using the resources he has, but we need to support him in giving him the tools and personnel he needs to fight crime.

First, some good news: our recruitment is up as a result of the $10,000 recruitment bonus the Council recently approved.

Now we’re looking at other ways that we can address police recruitment and retention. Today’s briefing compared Dallas’ police salaries to 9 surrounding suburbs. Base pay plus “special pay” (state-mandated longevity pay, field training pay, detective pay, certification pay, education pay) were considered. We compared different levels of officers. Here’s where Dallas ranks:

Recruits: 4th
3-Year Officer: Last
5-Year Officer: Last
7-Year Officer: Last
Top-Step Senior Corporal: 2nd

The proposal provides a 3-year plan to become more competitive with surrounding cities to address the issue until the pay referendum lawsuit is addressed.

–Restructure the pay “steps,” eliminating the lowest steps, so that new recruits would make $41,690/year instead of $38,640.
–Give new recruits $10,000 bonus (already in effect)
–Give between $100-$400/month bonus for officers who have special certification training
–Reestablish tuition reimbursement for all city employees
–Add $5000 bonus for 5 years of service

–Make step increases more frequent. Instead of taking 15 years to achieve top pay level, reduce to 8 years
–Increase salaries for each step by 5%
–Add $3000 bonus for 10 years of service
–Increase certification monthly bonus by $100 for intermediate and masters certification

–Increase salaries for each step by 5%

If we adopt this plan, Dallas will have the following ranks compared to 9 surrounding cities:

Recruits: 1st
3-Year Officer: Last
5-Year Officer: 5th
7-Year Officer: 8th
Top-Step Senior Corporal: 1st

View the proposal.

There is a real sense among all councilmembers and staff that we need to do whatever we need to do to make our city safer, and there is real support for this proposal. I also spoke with representatives from the Dallas Police Association and they are pleased with the proposal.

My hat is off to City Manager Mary Suhm for proposing police pay raise and incentives that will help us recruit and retain good officers to make our city safer.

Violence on Greenville

Last night around 2 a.m., a man was shot and murdered on Martel near Greenville Avenue. Two bar patrons apparently got into an argument, and one man took a gun from his truck and shot the other. The murder suspect, a Plano resident, is in police custody.

On Lower Greenville, four people were hospitalized after leaving a bar. The suspect remains at large.

This type of violence is unacceptable in our neighborhoods. I will be meeting with Police Chief David, Central Division Chief Brian Harvey, and Northeast Division Chief Jan Easterling to address these problems.

Council Approves Verified Response for Commercial Properties Only

Today the City Council approved verified response for commercial (not residential) properties.

Because 97% of all alarms are false, starting in February, the police will no longer respond automatically when a commercial burglar alarm goes off. The business will first have to confirm that there is a crime taking place. The ordinance will not apply to residential properties.

I voted in favor of this version of verified response primariliy because our Chief of Police explained that it would help him get 20 more officers on the street instead of chasing false alarms. We’ve got a real shortage of police (which we must fix), but instead of using them to patrol our neighborhoods, we’ve got them out there chasing alarms that are false 97% of the time.

We hired the Chief to be our top strategist on how to improve the safety of our city. He has to use his experience and best judgment to make resource allocation decisions. And Chief Kunkle has overseen a 17% reduction in homicides this year and a 5% decrease in overall crime. When he supports an initiative to get more cops on the street, I think we need to listen.

VOTE: Passed 8:5 (AH voting yes, DH absent, JF conflicted)