If you’re not on the mailing list for Alan Cohen’s monthly newsletter, you’ve missed out on some of the smartest data-driven and action-driven ideas leaking out in Dallas.
Cohen’s strategic plans include laying the groundwork for expanding ISD in Dallas to a school and co-chairing the Mayor’s Task Force on Safe Communities.
In 2018, he created the Child Poverty Action Lab, which has grown into the closest think tank we have in Dallas, focused on the complex issues our city and county grapple with every day.
Cohen’s latest newsletter points to a remarkable but little-known aspect of Dallas’ continued decline in homicides and other violent crime: Our city has become safer and arrests have dropped.
After a slight decline between 2020 and 2021, the number of arrests fell by 19% in 2022, from 9,876 to 7,983.
“If there is someone who is prone to violence, he should not be on the streets,” Cohen said. “But arresting more people is not synonymous with making us safer.”
According to Police Chief Eddie Garcia, this is exactly how the Dallas crime plan should work: fewer arrests.
Garcia’s strategy focuses on the fact that most violent crime is committed by a relatively small number of criminals operating in small geographic areas.
Since May 2021, the Dallas Police have focused on violent criminals in 47 high-crime nets, each the size of a football field. “We’re not trying to do anything more than stop violent crime – no shenanigans or stop-and-frisk methods,” Garcia told me.
While Garcia and his forensic partners at the University of Texas at San Antonio haven’t studied every category in which arrests have dropped, they do know that numbers have fallen in grid areas.
In addition, the success of RIGHT Care teams responding to mental health crisis calls has resulted in fewer arrests across the city.
Garcia believes the significant reduction in arrests is “a positive thing for our community, department, and city. But then we need to delve into the “why”.
Just days after he celebrated his two-year anniversary as Dallas’ chief police officer, Garcia offered a new analogy to help Dallas residents better understand the city’s overall strategy to reduce crime.
The increase in violent crime is a disease, and the first priority is to reduce the fever. The police department, with its focus on high crime networks, is bringing down the fever. You cannot ignore the fever, but you must also deal with the root problem.
“If you just inject Advil, over time the pain medication will start to have minimal effect,” Garcia said. What does the bottle say? “If fever persists, see a doctor.”
Mayor Eric Johnson understands this, and he has built a solid reputation nationally for what he calls the “kitchen sink” approach—reliable community solutions and strong controls based on evidence and data.
Garcia and Cohen, with the full support of Johnson, developed strategies that included improving the “conditions of the site”. The plans have been implemented by a number of TC Broadnax City Manager departments, as well as partners in non-profit organizations and the boroughs themselves.
One example was the recommendations of the mayor’s task force on investments such as tackling blight and improving lighting, and using violence interrupters and trusted grassroots messengers to cool down conflicts.
Jesuorobo Enobahare, chairman of the Local Police Supervisory Board, told me he is cautiously optimistic about the trend towards fewer arrests.
He said part of the credit for reducing the number of people who might otherwise end up in prison goes to violence interruption specialists working in high-crime areas and the expansion of RIGHT Care teams.
Enobahara also noted that the drop in arrests may be because the city is at the end of the pandemic and is seeing “less downtime, frustration and anger as recreation centers reopen, more jobs and more kids go to school.” “.
The Chairman of the Supervisory Board noted that low-income residents’ trust in the Dallas police has improved, and he believes that “Chief Garcia’s heart is in the right place.”
He and Garcia know that much more needs to be done. “This is something that requires focused and consistent work from both the police department and the civil society,” Enobakahara said.
His conversations with the residents tell him that the residents want a police presence, but only if it comes with respect and the dignity of being treated as human beings.
“It was not an experience for black residents and other residents of color,” he said.
Reducing violent crime in neighborhoods is fundamental to effectively combating intergenerational poverty and ensuring communities thrive.
The study also shows why reducing the number of arrests – especially those arrests that do not make society safer – is also critical.
“When parents go to prison, it is the children who are the hidden victims,” Cohen said. Not only does a family lose a breadwinner, the absence often leads to a string of injuries and other life-threatening hardships.
In Dallas County, children of color are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system, as are children in the South Side of our city.
A December 2020 study by the Child Poverty Action Lab found that Dallas County children are more likely than children of any other Texas county to have parents in prison. According to the report, at least 80,000 of them had parents behind bars.
That same year, 83% of arrests in the county were for non-violent offenses, most of which were related to mental health and substance use issues. Nearly 75% of prisoners were in “pre-trial” detention, often because they were unable to post bail, but had not yet been convicted of any crime.
“It’s important that we find real cures, and parental weaning is rarely the right cure and doesn’t create a long-term, systemic solution,” Cohen said.
While police department networking has been ongoing for more than a year, area-based strategies take longer.
“We’re not going to be in 47 places at the same time with this level of community service,” Cohen said. “But when we are there, the results will be much more lasting.”
After the precise grid clears the site, you have six months to a year the opportunity—now that residents feel safe—to improve the area, Cohen said.
Part of this is an immediate needs assessment: Does the area need better lighting and green space, interaction with landlords and DISD on programming, or assistance from public prosecutors and code?
Alongside “place programs,” there needs to be even more challenging work—aid to address long-term problems of inequality and shrinking investment.
Garcia, Cohen and Enobahara were quick to say that now is not the time for a winning lap.
Already this month, the number of murders has slightly increased compared to January last year. Several young people were involved in the killings, including an 11-year-old witness to a fight between two underage girls and a 16-year-old teenager whose body was found in Oak Cliff Creek.
It will take five years, maybe even a decade of hard work on crime fighting strategies to see if they are successful in the long run.
You don’t have to flip a switch to be the safest city in the country.
To subscribe to Alan Cohen’s newsletter, go to the “Contact Us” page at childpovertyactionlab.org