We met with Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia a day after he told the City Council how he planned to curb violent crime. Violent crime, he told council, is largely concentrated in tiny pockets in a few neighborhoods across the city. In Dallas, we’ve known that it has generally—although not always—originated between two or more individuals who are familiar with one another.
And we know that most of the communities that are dealing with violent crime do not have the same sort of opportunities as communities where it is not as prevalent. Transportation is poor, life expectancy is lower, jobs are difficult to come by, and healthy food isn’t always available. Many of those failures are the fault of government, which for too long neglected—and actively damaged, be that through zoning or highways or redlining or other policy decisions—some communities while favoring others.
The city’s violent crime rate increased 14 percent from 2018 to 2019 and another 5 percent from 2019 to 2020. Into this walks Garcia, who, upon his hiring three months ago, was charged with fixing it. I found his three-hour briefing to council interesting, in part because he waded right into the very controversial phrases that are “hot-spot policing” and “broken windows theory.”
Those have both led to over-policing and prejudicial practices like stop and frisk. In some cities, they’ve led to a disproportionate targeting of people of color who live in communities with high poverty rates and a violent crime problem. Garcia says his plan isn’t that; he said it’s not a “dragnet” operation and it won’t lead to stop and frisk. He says the plan is specific and narrowly tailored. It wants to fix some simple infrastructure problems that can improve neighborhoods:
“In one of those areas (I was patrolling) I counted 12 streetlights that were out in a city block. I don’t know what was worse: the fact that there was 12 streetlights that were out or the fact that people thought it was OK to live that way, because it’s not.”
As for the “hot spots,” the department identified grids—these are about the length of one football field and the width of about two—where most violent crime is occurring. This is what the operation will look like:
“We’ve broken down not only the areas but the times that we need to be there. The point is to be there and be highly visible. As visible as possible. It’s not about being there in those peak hours and stopping everything that moves, that’s that historic perspective of hot-spot policing and how it destroys community relationships with the police department. This isn’t that.”
Meanwhile, the city itself will need to figure out investments that can lift these neighborhoods up. Considering public safety is the largest line item on the city budget, balancing those interests is a difficult proposition for the chief:
“On one hand, yes, for long-term, safer Dallas and to get our communities on stable ground, we need to reduce poverty. We need to increase employment. We need to reduce food disparities and things of that nature. But at the same time you also have a report that’s saying you also need police officers to be in these areas to drive crime down. …I don’t want to call them competing interests – you have these two very important prongs that are needed for a safer Dallas, right? I’m not quite sure what the answer is, but especially when I go out into the community, I know these things are long-term successes, but our community is asking for officers now. Immediately.”
Zac Crain and I spoke with Garcia about his violent crime plan, how he reconciles the need for social services and the police department’s budget, what led to his decision to stop arresting for personal amounts of marijuana, and his thoughts on the legislation that would allow for the open carrying of handguns without training or licensing.
Listen after the jump.