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Opinion

Chief Garcia’s plan to reduce violent crime in Dallas hits the right notes

Focused intervention and community support are at the core of this strategy.

Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia vowed to have a workable plan to reduce violent crime, and based on the presentation he is scheduled to give City Council this week, Garcia is moving in the right direction.

What strikes us about the plan is that it doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel, but that it is holistic, calling on participation by residents, focusing enforcement on crime hot spots, and seeking cooperation from other city departments. The most pleasing part of this strategy is the chief’s collaboration with criminologists at the University of Texas at San Antonio to determine what has worked elsewhere and to institute a data-driven procedure that emphasizes analysis, implementation, constant evaluation and revisions if necessary.

The plan has three key components. The first is to build from proven evidence that a handful of criminals are responsible for the bulk of crime in a city and that many crimes occur in defined geographical areas. Garcia’s strategy breaks down the city into grids and will focus on the 5.6% of grids where there was a victim of violent crime in 2020.

The second promises to deliver special attention when warranted and to include other city departments from code compliance to park and recreation as part of the evaluation and response. The goal is to bring city departments that traditionally operate in administrative silos into the problem-solving process. For example, parks officials will be more integrated into the conversation on how to address crimes in parks, and code compliance and housing will have greater voices at the table to address abandoned homes, high weeds and other urban blight that could produce criminal activity. Resolving problems before they become magnets for criminal activity is smarter and more effective than allowing crime to settle and then attempt to dislodge it.

The third element links deterrence to several factors, including the importance of building high-quality, non-threatening relationships with residents who want a safer neighborhood. Officers will be asked to interact with residents as partners, not potential combatants. That benefits community morale and also taps into concerned citizens as a source of intelligence about the threats to the community that police might not otherwise recognize.

Finding the places where offenders gather to plan or commit crimes and then bringing to bear various city resources makes it easier to force gangs from a drug house or deprive criminals of refuge. Just having an officer visible in an area often will deter crime. Citing a study from Las Vegas, the plan notes that something as simple as having lighted patrol cars in an area produced a 4.6% decrease in violent crimes and 28% decrease in violence-related calls for service.

For this plan to work, silos of resistance must fall, and all departments within City Hall must begin to think of public safety as a multifaceted, cooperative effort. It is also critical that the data used to make decisions is accurate and timely, and that crime analysis is more than counting crimes. We hope that the city recognizes this need and supports efforts to improve data collection and analysis.

We also see this moment as an opportunity for other changes. For years, police officers have complained that they arrest criminals who are then back on the streets within hours and continue to pose a danger to communities. Our own research has found troubling blind spots, i.e. that the data to better profile repeat offenders is seldom available before a judge or magistrate sets bail. With the police chief’s plan now on the table, we urge the City of Dallas, Dallas County and the District Attorney’s office to sit down together to review how the bail system can be improved.

As Garcia is quite aware, reducing crime involves more than just making arrests. Residents, and all city departments must take ownership of this challenge and commit to being an integral part of the solution. And this involvement can’t be one and done. Rebuilding communities to provide jobs, housing and investment also is central to reducing crime, and like crime-fighting strategies, must be a priority over years, not weeks or months.

By definition, this strategy is designed to be reevaluated and revised, and thoughts from the council and residents are welcome. But what Garcia needs most right now is the support of the council without micromanaging masquerading as accountability. Policing in America is more complex than it has ever been. Having a chief who seems to understand the complexities and has a strategy to implement is indeed a step forward.

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Dallas Morning News Editorial. Dallas Morning News editorials are written by the paper's Editorial Board and serve as the voice and view of the paper. The board considers a broad range of topics and is overseen by the Editor of Editorials.

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