Morgan Christian, Director, Public Policy and Communications
In 2021, more than two-thirds of the nation’s most populous cities saw an uptick in homicides, as well as a marked increase in violent crime overall – but not Dallas.
At the end of 2021, Dallas’ murder rate had dropped 13% versus 2020, and arrests were down more than 11%.
But that doesn’t mean the work of building a trusted local public safety system is anywhere near finished, according to Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia.
“None of this is going to be easy,” Chief Garcia said. “It’s going to be a collective work by all of us – to see more reinvestments in our community, to continue to see violent crime reducing.”
Chief Garcia joined the Dallas Regional Chamber for its first State of Public Safety event on May 5. The event, sponsored by Texas Instruments, featured a panel discussion with the chief, as well as Texas State. Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) and B.J. Wagner, Senior Vice President of Health and Public Safety at the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson also spoke, in addition to Texas Instruments Chairman, President, and CEO Rich Templeton. Tim Williams, Vice President and Special Adviser to Templeton, served as a moderator. Williams helps lead public safety efforts for Texas Instruments and also serves on the Executive Advisory Board of the Caruth Police Institute.
The event was Chief Garcia’s first large-scale public engagement since taking over the Dallas Police Department (DPD) at the beginning of 2021. It was also the first large event of its kind in the Dallas Region since the protests and conversations that followed the killing of George Floyd in May 2020.
While public safety has traditionally been a priority for companies operating in – or looking to operate in – the Dallas Region, the issue has taken on more weight and meaning over the past two years, as companies here have coalesced around increasing their engagement on the topic, especially through an economic development lens for the state of Texas.
“I believe that companies are only as strong as the communities in which they operate,” Templeton said. “And one of the most important tenets of every strong community is a fair, transparent and trusted public safety system. Trust in our public safety system, including trust by people of color, is not just important, but it may also be an enabler to unlock everyone’s potential.”
So how can companies continue to learn more and take concrete action?
“Connect with and learn from people who are in and around the law enforcement professions, Wagner suggested. “But this is not just your local police department – it’s people who are working in police science, criminology, and law enforcement policy…people who are working to develop enhancements to the profession. See how you can become more involved in those things as well.”
Wagner has developed award-winning training curricula on mental health awareness, symptom recognition, and verbal de-escalation techniques that have been duplicated across the state and country. She is the primary architect of Dallas’ RIGHT CARE program, which sends police and civilian co-response teams to address mental health emergency calls. Her work also focuses on training police officers in the Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) program, which promotes mental health and peer-intervention to create a police culture in which officers routinely intervene to prevent officer misconduct. DPD was the first major law enforcement agency in Texas to take its 31,00 officers through ABLE.
Sen. West, a long-time leader in the Texas Legislature on public safety and criminal justice issues, also mentioned House Bill 569, the Bonton Farms Act, as an example of positive engagement by companies during the last legislative session. The bill lowers barriers to employment for the formerly incarcerated.
“Frankly, the Bonton bill that I was able to pass was at the urging of the business community,” Sen. West said.
“As a business community, I think you need to look at issues concerning whether or not you check the box on employment applications and things of that nature.”
The next legislative session begins in January 2023. In the meantime, the Texas House has formed an interim study committee on criminal justice reform, which includes three members of the Dallas Region delegation: Chairman Jeff Leach (R-Plano), Rep. Angie Chen Button (R-Richardson), and Rep. Rhetta Bowers (D-Garland). Along similar lines, the Texas Senate will be studying re-entry programs and scholarship opportunities to increase the law enforcement talent pipeline.
“We have got to make sure we sit down with law enforcement, and also justice groups, to look at what the issues are,” Sen. West said. “It’s going to be important for Democrats and Republicans to sit down and work out concessions to those issues.”
Finally, both Sen. West and Chief Garcia asked companies to look at hiring interns from neighborhoods with higher crime numbers, to offer opportunities to young people before they appear on the radar of law enforcement.
“If you don’t [do this], or you don’t know, you need to check with your chief of police, and he can recommend some of those zip codes,” Sen. West said.
Collaboration and partnership between community members, law enforcement, public officials, and businesses will be essential to keeping Dallas on a positive trajectory in the years to come.
“We did not get into this overnight and we’re not going to get out of it overnight,” Chief Garcia said. “We need to be in it for the long haul.”
The State of Public Safety was presented by Texas Instruments. Toyota Motor North America and Hillwood, a Perot Company, were Silver Sponsors.