Mayor Eric Johnson stands next to community activist Rene Martinez as he announces his task force on violent crime. (Photo by Shawn Shinneman)

Politics & Government

Mayor Eric Johnson Announces Task Force on Violent Crime

So far, only three chairs of the task force have been named.

Mayor Eric Johnson on this afternoon announced a civilian-only task force that is charged with developing policy recommendations to help the City Council stop a wave of violence unlike Dallas has seen in more than a decade.

Johnson said no police would be participating and added that he has not spoken to Chief U. Reneé Hall since she took medical leave for an unknown surgery more than a month ago. The mayor urged the task force to come up with “holistic and data-driven solutions for communities disproportionately affected by violent crime.” Johnson said he expected “concrete recommendations” to be brought before city leadership by year’s end.

“These solutions should not rely exclusively on law enforcement,” he said. “I believe in the Dallas Police Department, and I believe the Dallas Police Department’s focus on guns, gangs, and drugs is both smart and necessary to help reduce violent crime in our city. But we can’t ask or expect law enforcement to do it all.”

He opened his announcement by reflecting on the death of 9-year-old Brandoniya Bennett, who was shot and killed in her Old East Dallas apartment last week. Police say a 19-year-old fired into the wrong unit a little after 5:30 p.m. last Wednesday, striking the girl as she relaxed inside. Johnson named the three chairs of the task force and said he planned to name the rest “very soon.” They include Alan Cohen, the head of the nonprofit Child Poverty Action Lab; Rene Martinez, an educator, community activist, and longtime member of LULAC; and Rev. Michael Bowie, of the Saint Luke Community United Methodist Church in the Far East Dallas neighborhood of Owenwood.

Martinez said the mayor asked him to join a couple days ago, but added that the two have spoken previously about “educational issues, workforce issues.” He called the appointment “a call to duty by the mayor.” He’s been on other task forces, most recently the one that former Mayor Mike Rawlings charged with studying what to do with the Confederate statues. Members of the City Council said they found out about the task force on violence when the media did—Monday, hours before the press conference in the Flag Room at City Hall.

“I believe that all of the fifth floor found out when y’all found out,” said Councilman Adam Bazaldua, referencing the Council’s offices. Bazaldua represents South Dallas and Fair Park, which is said to be one of the police department’s high-crime target zones. Asked if the notice was frustrating, he gave a faint smile and said, “You know, I’m excited to learn more about the task force.”

Johnson has been clear about his desire to use data to find any patterns in the city’s homicides that can be addressed through policy. An open records request submitted by D shows Johnson’s first few days in office included a request that the police department send him the total homicides in the city for the past dozen or so years, broken down by month. This year’s data showed more murders year-to-date in Dallas than in any since 2007, when the city logged 200 total.

Johnson’s request was in line with his messaging during his campaign: as his opponent Scott Griggs hammered again and again that the city was in the midst of a public safety “crisis,” Johnson hung back and refused to use such language. He wanted to study the data first. He maintained that stance today.

“We’ve long talked about the need for more programs for our youth. We’ve long talked about breaking cycles of poverty to keep our youth focused on a future that will never include a single minute behind bars,” he said. “What we don’t talk about enough are data and best practices. It’s my hope that the Mayor’s Task Force on Safe Communities will collect and analyze all of the available data, engage with key stakeholders as well as the broader Dallas community, and then come up with specific recommendations for me and our city’s leaders to consider and implement.”

That was about as detailed as he got. He declined to discuss a DPS trooper fatally shooting an armed suspect in South Dallas over the weekend. He asked reporters to focus their questions on “what this task force’s goals are and what we hope to accomplish.” Martinez said he didn’t know how large the task force would be, but he was given a 90-day timeline by the mayor. The result will be a report presented to Johnson, who will then bring it in front of the City Council.

“We’re going to have to go into different areas into the city and listen to what people are saying,” Martinez said. “We’re going to literally be listening posts on what those issues are.”

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