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Is This Morning News Editorial About Bail Reform Just a Mess of Lightly Researched Fear Mongering?

How the DMN editorial board conflated all these issues needs greater scrutiny.
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John Creuzot speaks to reporters
Shawn Shinneman

This morning, an editorial went up on the Dallas Morning News site with the “hey, I’m just asking questions” headline, “Is bail reform the cause of Dallas’ climbing crime?” The answer is not really in the story, because what they are actually talking about, almost exclusively, is the murder rate, and to a lesser extent aggravated assault and other violent crimes. (There is a reference to a 14 percent rise in robberies last year, but it is almost as an aside.)

But even if you change the question to “Is bail reform the cause of Dallas’ climbing murder rate?” their answer is, “Who knows, but someone should probably look into it, right? Huh? Right?”

Much of the editorial is weighted by anecdotal evidence from law enforcement officials like Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall and Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown, with no pushback or numbers to back up their claims, which, for the most part, have little to do with bail reform.

Bail reform is about reducing a jail population that is largely made up of pretrial detainees, people who can’t afford to get out, even at seemingly low amounts like $500. Across the country, almost two-thirds of people incarcerated locally have not been convicted of anything. In Texas, it’s 70 percent.

In the editorial, it says:

In a recent interview with the editorial board of The Dallas Morning News, Brown urged caution in developing law enforcement policies that could be construed as “no accountability” and worried that her officers are serving warrants on the same people.

Releasing defendants for low-level offenses without bond means “everybody’s getting out on a court date, and those people don’t come back,” Brown said. “What that does is that affects us on our end because warrants are now issued for those persons who are not coming back to court for their court date.”

For a couple of days last month, I listened to presentations from people at the Vera Institute of Justice. One of the speakers, Nancy Fishman, said that about 40 percent of people released on a court date don’t appear, and, based on their research, that number mostly boils down to logistics. People can’t afford child care or leave work or locate reliable transportation. These aren’t really career criminals or violent predators hunting for new victims.

But in the editorial, bail reform gets immediately tied to that type of offender.

Meanwhile, documented cases of plainly violent people leaving jail on absurdly low bonds have raised the urgency of understanding what is happening.

Among them is David Cadena, accused of beating a woman in a downtown parking garage only to leave the jail twice on bail set at $20,000 and $25,000 for two different charges before federal authorities held him without bond on a carjacking charge.
And the worst case we have seen to date — Jacques Smith, a two-time felon accused of beating his former girlfriend and then getting out on bail of $15,000. After his release, he drove to Texas A&M University-Commerce where he allegedly murdered her and her sister and shot a 2-year-old boy.
These bonds were set by magistrates or judges, not by Creuzot’s office, as the story notes and glosses over. Throughout, it nebulously ties together bail reform and Creuzot’s policies—some of which are not even in place—in a perfect package of maybe this is the problem. Never mind, again, that it’s the judges and magistrates that set bail.

Basically, Dallas had a lot of violent crimes in 2019, and 2020 doesn’t look much better so far. At the same time, District Attorney John Creuzot has been pushing for bail reform and other progressive policies. Also, very recently, someone who committed a heinous crime had been previously arrested and was able to post bail, a bail set by a judge in Garland, during a hearing where no prosecutor or public defender was around. That’s not what bail reform advocates, Creuzot among them, want. So, is this Creuzot’s fault? Despite the steady, implied fault throughout, the ultimate conclusion of this editorial is: Who knows? Certainly not us!

Creuzot also faces backlash from elected officials who call him to public meetings where people confront him. But when he asks for examples of people released because of his policies, he never gets anything concrete, he said. No one has been able to point to the actual impact of his policies as increasing crime, he said.

“If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. I’ll live up to it,” he said.

This is central to the problem Dallas has right now. No one has systematically studied the impact of Creuzot’s policies or the federal order that magistrates are operating under. No one knows whether there is a causal relationship. No one can definitively say who is responsible or how much each actor (including, police, judges and prosecutors) in this process has contributed (if at all) to the spike in crime.

This is why you don’t ask inflammatory questions in headlines if you can’t answer them.

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