The protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd began a nationwide conversation to discuss police reform ideas, including calls to “defund the police.” The phrase has been used to mean everything from redirecting money away from police departments to actually abolishing the police.
In North Texas, one coalition is working to create a “People’s Budget.” They want to find items in the Dallas Police Department’s budget that they can slash in hopes of redistributing those funds towards other city services like housing and education.
Finding a better solution for Black communities
The “defund the police” initiative is highly controversial, especially in cities where violent crimes are a problem – like in Dallas.
Last year, Dallas faced an uncharacteristically rapid rise in violent crime. There were more than 200 homicides, which was the highest number of killings the city has seen in more than a decade. Dallas also saw an increase in personal robberies and aggravated assaults in 2019. The situation eventually got so bad that Gov. Greg Abbott directed the state’s Department of Public Safety to send state troopers to the city to help reduce violent crime.
Still, for those who’ve embraced the idea of defunding the police, the slogan offers a solution. They say it could decrease crime and more immediately diminish police violence.
“We are coming into the conversation and saying, ‘The people who keep us safe actually aren’t the police,’” said activist Mercedes Fulbright. “If we continue to invest in an institution whose actions have made it clear they don’t keep us safe, these uprisings will continue to happen and our communities will drastically transform for the worse.”
Fulbright is an organizer for the local chapter of BYP100. It’s a national group made up of 18- to 35-year-olds who are striving to create justice and freedom for all Black people. BYP100 is one of several organizations – including Mothers Against Police Brutality and The House of Rebirth – that are calling on Dallas leaders to divest from police and invest in social services.
They said spending money to improve the quality of a citizen’s life – instead of spending money on policing citizens – will result in fewer crimes and better outcomes for Black people in Dallas.
“It’s a radical demand, because we’re literally calling out the very thing that has never been in service of Black people,” said Fulbright. “[Policing] came from slave catching. And everyone will put that out there, but then they’re afraid to use the word ‘defund’. And it’s like, why wouldn’t you want folks to thrive versus the police? Cause right now [the police are] thriving.”
For now, a focus on divesting
Fulbright said she knows Dallas’ leaders aren’t ready to eliminate DPD today. But she thinks they ought to reduce the department’s $514 million budget.
“We’re not here to talk about oversight. We’re not here to talk about reforms [or] regulations,” stressed Fulbright. “You know, people are saying, ‘But the police will still be here. And it’s important to have these things in place.’ But for us, it’s like, ‘No! We’re going to continue to push for [police] to not have the money and the power anymore.’ And we don’t want to compromise on that, because the moment that we do, then we’re going to have to start this campaign all over again.”
Fulbright wants city leaders to begin shrinking the Dallas Police Department’s budget now. She said the Dallas City Council should reduce the DPD’s budget every year until the city’s budget is “built around the people and the communities and the things they actually need to keep themselves safe.”
Fulbright suggested social services that can improve education, housing, food insecurity and medical care.
City Manager T. C. Broadnax said he’s not ready to commit to making cuts to the Police Department. Still, in a recent interview with KERA’s Sam Baker, Broadnax said he thinks the city could be doing more to help citizens facing health and financial challenges.
“We don’t spend enough money, quite honestly, on social-safety-net-type services,” he said. “Out of our $1.4 billion budget, we spend a collective $20 million dollars on those services.”
Making decisions based on the data
Samuel Sigyangwe is a data scientist and a policy analyst. He’s also a co-founder of the website Mapping Police Violence, a comprehensive database that tracks the killings of Americans by police.
He said the departments that serve human and social needs must have more than 1.5% of the City’s budget, especially when the largest share – 37% of the budget – is dedicated to the Dallas Police.
“For every three police shooting [in America] one person dies,” Sigyangwe told a crowd of protesters in Dallas recently. “That means not only are about 1,100 people killed by police each year, but at least 3,300 are shot. And 55,000 people are hospitalized every year.”
He thinks making some “common sense” cuts to DPD’s budget could shave off anywhere from $100 to $200 million dollars. Then, those savings could be reallocated to social services.
“First and foremost, divisions like the Narcotics [and] Vice, units specializing in things that they ought not be arresting people for, those need to be closed,” Sigyangwe said. “$20 million saved and reinvested.”
According to data gathered by the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the majority of the nearly 30,000 arrests made by DPD in 2018 were made for low-level offenses like drug possession, sex work, being homeless and substance abuse.
Sigyangwe argues those arrests hurt the people arrested and creates a bigger financial burden on the City of Dallas. He also points out that only 1 in 20 arrests in Dallas are made for acts of violent crime. For that reason, he thinks the City should also dump units created for violent situations.
“Things like the SWAT team, special operations, militarized equipment – like tanks – $26 million cut it,” he said.
From there, trimming DPD’s budget becomes a little more difficult because of an agreement between police unions and the City of Dallas.
The Dallas City Council recently approved a three-year contract that increases the amount of money given to DPD each year to account for raises, benefits and overtime. That contract doesn’t give the Council an opportunity to reduce the amount given to DPD annually until it ends in 2022. But the contract doesn’t prevent the layoffs.
Making decisions based on the data
Sigyangwe said the City should fire the officers who have the most occurrences of misconduct on their record. Armed with the most recent data provided by Dallas Police from 2016, he told folks at a protest he thinks the city should start by looking at the officers using force most often.
“There were 2,383 times the police used force in [Dallas] in 2016. There are about 3,300 officers. Which means the average officer used force maybe one time,” he said.
But a further examination of the data shows one officer engaged in violent exchanges 25 times that year. The 50 police officers with the highest number of incidents made up 20% of the entire department’s incidents involving use-of-force.
“We got all the data right here,” Sigyangwe said. “They need to go. This is how you do it. You take the data. You figure out who needs to go first, which is the officers being most violent. And you take maybe the top 30% of those officers and you remove them. Done. We’ve cut the budget another $140 million.”
BYP100’s Mercedes Fulbright said Sigyangwe’s ideas are a jumping off point. She said her organization, and others involved with the In Defense of Black Lives coalition, are hoping to actually pinpoint where they want the City’s money spent.
The “People’s Budget” will be produced by having conversations with groups in all of Dallas’s 14 districts. Fulbright hopes to have the budgets completed and ready to share by August.