Dallas city council members grilled Police Chief David Brown on Monday over his claim that he needs more cops.
At a Public Safety Committee meeting, council members Philip Kingston and Adam McGough challenged Brown’s assertion that a lack of officers has led to slower 911 response times and a rise in violent crime.
Kingston said that Dallas, whose budget is “tapped out,” seems to have more officers per capita than any other city in Texas. Kingston suggested that San Antonio, Austin and El Paso have fewer officers, yet faster response times than Dallas, and asked why.
Brown, who questioned whether Kingston’s assertions about other cities were correct, said those places have “horrible crime.”
“Dallas has outperformed them in reducing crime – every one of those cities, and it’s not even close,” Brown said.
The testy exchanges marked a departure from recent meetings, in which council members have largely praised Brown for bringing down the city’s crime rates. Kingston, though, has publicly criticized Brown and is allied with two council members, Adam Medrano and Scott Griggs, who allegedly sought Brown’s ouster in September.
At Monday’s meeting, Brown presented a chart showing that the department’s 911 response times in 2015 were, on average, the slowest in the past decade — aside from the highest priority calls. The department’s response to those emergencies, called Priority 1, on average fell within its goal of 8 minutes.
But for lower priority 911 calls, response times in 2015 were the slowest since at least 2004. For Priority 2 calls, which include robberies and assaults, the average response time was 19.6 minutes – far above the 12-minute goal.
For Priority 3 calls, which include missing persons and burglaries, the average response time was 65.2 minutes –more than double the 30-minute goal. And for Priority 4 incidents, which could be disturbances, thefts and panhandling, the average response time was 89.3 minutes, exceeding the 60-minute goal.
Meanwhile, in 2015, the department spent $1.5 million on overtime for 911 call response, a jump from 2014′s $145,544.
Brown said he’s found “the most successful formula in the city’s history” to juggle competing demands to fight crime, build community relationships and handle emergencies. He repeated that since he took office in 2010, Dallas crime has dropped by 34 percent – which he called the most drastic drop of any chief nationwide.
But dramatic crime reduction, Kingston said, just reflects that Dallas used to be “the most unsafe city in the country.” He added that such changes are “really immaterial to present-day budget and staffing concerns.”
Kingston asked how Dallas could catch up to other cities that are doing a better job of responding to 911 calls quickly and fighting crime, despite having fewer cops.
“I don’t have the data here to show you that your premise is not based in fact,” Brown said. “We went from below Detroit 12 years ago to surpassing all the cities that you named.”
Brown said the city has enjoyed such a dramatic reduction from its high-crime years that it’s hard to put a further dent in the numbers. But, he said, it’s possible to make the city safer through adding more officers and overtime.
Also, Brown said, the department experienced a higher 911 call load in 2015 than in past years. In 2015, there were 606,541 calls – up from 596,670 the year before.
Making things worse, Brown said, the department has lost 270 officers through attrition since 2010. He said he had to move extra patrols to Oak Lawn and Katy Trail after high-profile robberies there, further dwindling the force.
McGough questioned why Brown now needs more officers but didn’t in years past, when the force had not much more than its current 3,511 officers. In 2011, for example, there were 3,601 officers, yet response times were much faster, on average.
“I still don’t understand why they [response times] are going up so dramatically,” McGough told Brown.
“We don’t have enough cops,” Brown said, repeating the line twice. “That’s why they’re going up.”
“It always comes back to that?” McGough asked.
“Yes,” Brown replied.
After the meeting, Ron Pinkston, president of the Dallas Police Association, said the department desperately needs more officers and better pay. However, he repeated his longstanding concerns that the chief doesn’t assign enough of the department’s officers to patrol.
“We don’t think he’s being efficient with his resources,” said Pinkston. “But that being said, I don’t think he’s been given all the resources that he had in 2010.”