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Yes, Dallas violent crime dropped in 2022, but the number of arrests is even more amazing

When parents go to jail, it’s children who are the hidden victims — and that’s no long-term solution.

If you aren’t on the email list for Alan Cohen’s monthly newsletter, you’ve missed some of the smartest data- and action-driven ideas percolating in Dallas.

Cohen’s strategic blueprints include laying the foundation for Dallas ISD’s pre-K expansion and co-chairing the Mayor’s Task Force on Safe Communities.

In 2018, he created the Child Poverty Action Lab, which has steadily grown into the closest thing we have in Dallas to a think tank focused on the gnarly issues our city and county grapple with day to day.

Cohen’s most recent newsletter points to a remarkable but little reported aspect of the continuing drop in murders and other violent crimes in Dallas: Our city has gotten safer while also reducing arrests.

After decreasing a tad between 2020 and 2021, arrests in 2022 plummeted 19%, from 9,876 to 7,983.

Alan Cohen founded the Child Poverty Action Lab in 2018 and serves as its president and CEO....
Alan Cohen founded the Child Poverty Action Lab in 2018 and serves as its president and CEO. He was photographed Monday at the CPAL offices at Good Coworking, just south of downtown Dallas. (Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)

“If there is someone who is violent, they should not be on the streets,” Cohen said. “But arresting more people is not synonymous with making us safer.”

Fewer arrests is exactly how the Dallas crime plan is supposed to work, Police Chief Eddie García told me.

García’s strategy focuses on the reality that most violent crime is generated by relatively few perpetrators working in small geographic areas.

Since May 2021, Dallas police have concentrated on violent offenders in 47 high-crime grids, each about the size of a football field. “We’re not trying to do more than take down the violent crime — no dragnet type of approach or stop-and-frisk approach,” García told me.

While García and his criminologist partners at the University of Texas at San Antonio haven’t studied every category in which arrests are down, they do know the numbers have dropped in the grid areas.

Additionally, the success of the RIGHT Care teams, which respond to mental health crisis calls, has led to fewer arrests citywide.

García believes the large decrease in arrests is “a positive thing for our community, for the department and the city. But next we need to drill down into the why.”

Just days from marking his two-year anniversary as Dallas’ top cop, García offered a new analogy to help Dallas residents better understand the city’s overall crime-reduction strategy.

Rising violent crime is a disease, and priority one is bringing down the fever. The Police Department, with its focus on the high-crime grids, is the fever reducer. You can’t ignore the fever, but you have to deal with the root problem too.

“If you just administer the Advil, over time the pain reliever will begin to have minimal impact,” García said. “What does the bottle say? ‘If the fever persists, see the doctor.’”

Mayor Eric Johnson gets this, and he’s developed a strong reputation nationally for what he calls the “kitchen sink” approach — robust community solutions and strong policing, both done with evidence and data.

Dallas Police Chief Eddie García visited with a resident Jan. 21 during a community walk...
Dallas Police Chief Eddie García visited with a resident Jan. 21 during a community walk with Project Unity on Kingbridge Street in West Dallas. (Dallas Police Department)

García and Cohen, with Johnson’s full support, have created strategies that include improving “the conditions of place.” A number of City Manager T.C. Broadnax’s departments have implemented the plans, as have partners in nonprofits and the neighborhoods themselves.

One example was the mayor’s task force recommendations for investments such as blight remediation and lighting improvements, as well as employing violence interrupters and credible grass-roots messengers to cool conflicts.

Jesuorobo Enobakhare, chair of the Community Police Oversight Board, told me that he’s cautiously optimistic about the trend in fewer arrests.

He said part of the credit for reducing the number of people who might otherwise end up in jail goes to the violence interrupters working in high-crime areas and the expansion of the RIGHT Care teams.

Enobakhare also noted the drop in arrests could be rooted in the city being on the back end of the pandemic and seeing “less idle time, frustration and anger as rec centers reopen, more jobs are available and more kids are in school.”

The oversight board chair has seen improvements in underserved community members’ trust in Dallas police, and he believes “Chief García’s heart is in the right place.”

He and García know much more needs to be done. “This is something that takes intentional, consistent work, both by the Police Department and the civilian community,” Enobakhare said.

His conversations with residents tell him that they want the police presence but only if it comes with the respect and dignity of being treated as human beings.

“That’s not been the experience for Black residents and other residents of color,” he said.

Reducing violent crime in neighborhoods is a linchpin for dealing effectively with intergenerational poverty and allowing communities to thrive.

The research also shows why reducing arrests — particularly those arrests that don’t make the public any safer — is also pivotal.

“When parents go to jail, it’s children who are the hidden victims,” Cohen said. Not only does the family lose a wage earner, the absence often creates a cascade of trauma and other life-shattering difficulties.

From left, Child Poverty Action Lab president and CEO Alan Cohen, senior director of...
From left, Child Poverty Action Lab president and CEO Alan Cohen, senior director of analytics Owen Wilson-Chavez, director of data analytics Anthony Galvan, senior director of neighborhood insights Rachel Tache and manager of analytics Michael Lopez at the nonprofit's co-working space near downtown Dallas..(Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)

In Dallas County, children of color are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system, as are children in the southern part of our city.

A December 2020 study by the Child Poverty Action Lab showed Dallas County children are more likely than kids in any other Texas county to have parents in prison. At least 80,000 of them had a parent behind bars, according to the report.

That same year, 83% of arrests in the county were for nonviolent offenses, most related to mental health and substance use issues. Almost 75% of those in jail were “pre-trial” holds, often due to inability to pay bail but not yet convicted of any crime.

“It’s important we find real cures, and taking parents away from kids is rarely the right cure, nor will it create a long-term systemic solution,” Cohen said.

While the Police Department’s grid work has been up and running for more than a year, the neighborhood-based strategies take longer.

“We’re not going to be in 47 places with that level of community work at any one time,” Cohen said. “But when we are there, the results will be much more lasting.”

After the precision grid work cleans up a location, Cohen said, you’ve got maybe six months to a year of opportunity — now that residents feel safe — to improve the neighborhood.

Part of that is evaluating the immediate needs: Does the area require better lighting and green spaces, engagement with landlords and Dallas ISD on programming, or the help of community prosecutors and code?

Alongside the “programs of place” must come the even more difficult work — help that addresses the long-term issues of inequality and disinvestment.

García, Cohen and Enobakhare each were quick to say now is no time for a victory lap.

Already this month, murders are slightly up over last January. The killings have included several young people, including an 11-year-old bystander to a fight between two juvenile girls and a 16-year-old whose body was found in an Oak Cliff creek.

It will take five years, maybe even a decade, of endurance on the crime-fighting strategies to see if they succeed for the long haul.

There’s no flip of a switch to becoming the safest city in the nation.

To subscribe to Alan Cohen’s newsletter, go to the “contact” page at childpovertyactionlab.org

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