Chief optimistic on request to add cops

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Dallas Police Chief David Brown said Wednesday that he is confident the City Council wants to grow the police department again.

“I do get the sense, unequivocally, that they are supportive of what we need,” Brown said.

Brown has already asked for 50 officers above the attrition rate and said he would like to add 25 to 50 more civilian employees as well. The problem: The majority of the infrastructure-hungry council, including Mayor Mike Rawlings, also wants to slow the expanding public safety budget’s growth.

Police have had myriad issues in the last year after the department shrank to its smallest size in Brown’s six-year tenure as chief. Officers took longer to get to 911 calls. Violent crime shot up. Officers quit or retired in significantly higher numbers than expected. Some went to better-paying departments.

The police department has a $451 million budget this year, which makes up 38 percent of the city’s $1.1 billion general fund. Including the fire department and municipal courts, public safety efforts make up 64 percent of the fund.

City officials’ early projections show public safety will eat up 68 percent of next year’s general fund. A multibillion-dollar pay lawsuit and a financially troubled pension fund add to the council members’ financial worries.

Additional officers will add a few million dollars to the budget per year. Civilians will also tack on new costs, but they are generally less expensive than commissioned officers. The department has fewer than half the civilians it employed before the recession forced budget cuts.

Brown said the civilian “public safety officers” could attend to car wrecks, wait in line at the jail and do other tasks that don’t require badges and guns. That means more of the department’s 3,500 officers back on the streets.

But the actual cost will depend on ongoing police and fire salary negotiations with the city. Officials pegged that price tag at an additional $7.7 million a year.

Rawlings suggested city leaders consider other means to slash costs, such as offsetting pay increases through other public safety cuts.

“The police and the fire chief are doing more with less today than they ever were before,” Rawlings said. “When you get to that point, you have to use scalpels to figure out where the cuts should be.”

Rawlings said pay increases for veteran cops are a lower priority for him. But Ron Pinkston, president of the Dallas Police Association, said the negotiations with police and fire employees should be the city’s first priority.

“Before they address hiring any more civilians or police, they have to take care of the ones that are already here,” he said.

Council member Sandy Greyson asked Brown why he couldn’t shift cops around instead of adding new ones. Brown said he has made a few changes and has achieved three straight weeks of improved response times. He also announced Wednesday that police will have another violent crime task force to combat an increase of more than 20 percent in violent crime so far this year.

But decreases in violent crime and improvement in response times could also weaken Brown’s position come September when the council approves the final budget.

“You’ll always be a victim of your own success,” Brown said. “But we’ll live with that.”

Twitter: @TristanHallman

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