DALLAS -- For years, it’s been almost heresy for political leaders to suggest cuts to public safety budgets. But that's just what Mayor Mike Rawlings did Wednesday during a Dallas City Council budget briefing.
“I’m probably touching the third rail, but I don’t care. That’s the only place you’re going to really find it,” Rawlings told fellow council members.
The mayor’s comments came at the end of the nearly two-hour budget briefing outlining the nearly $30 million shortfall in the city’s proposed $1.2 billion budget. The city’s public safety budget – encompassing police, fire, court and the city’s jail contract - would account for about 60 percent.
In a statement, Police Chief David Brown said he has been “a recession-era chief, having been appointed in 2010 at the start of the ‘Great Recession.’ I have had an operational philosophy of doing more with less.”
Rawlings’ suggestion didn’t go over well with the leaders of some of the city’s largest police associations, who contend that they’ve already given up enough in recent years.
“It's ridiculous,” said Senior Cpl. Richard Todd, president of the Dallas Fraternal Order of Police. “They can't give us good health care. They can't give us the pay that they promised us seven years ago, and yet they want to cut more. Shame on them. Shame on all of them.”
During Wednesday’s meeting, the mayor suggested that any departmental budgets that are above $40 million needed to get a hard look. He said any cuts needed to be strategic, and not done in an across-the-board manner.
“We have done a hell of a job over the years in bringing crime down and we’re a safer city, but we have got to look at that 60 percent of our budget,” the mayor said. “That should not be a sacrosanct percentage.”
In an interview with News 8 Thursday, the mayor said what he’s talking about is slowing the growth rates of those budgets. He added that in real dollars, the budgets will still grow as a result of the multi-year contract with police and firefighters.
“What I said is the percentage should not be sacrosanct,” the mayor said. "The question is, how do we take the money out of that and do it in a smart way, so that we make sure that we keep driving crime down?” he added.
Sgt. Robert Arredondo, president of the Latino Peace Officers Association, called on the mayor to reconsider.
“Police and fire have already slowed the growth,” Arredondo said. “We have been doing more with less and cutting us deeper will only hurt the citizens we serve.”
Sgt. Cletus Judge, head of the Black Police Association of Greater Dallas, said he understood the need for the city to “diligently review” the city’s finances. But cautioned, “I hope that any budget cuts to police and fire are given serious attention, and that the safety of our citizens and police/fire isn’t compromised.”
In recent years, the city’s police and fire budgets have actually fallen, largely as a result of a multi-year contract that police and firefighter associations cut at the start of the recession. In fiscal year 2010, for example, the police budget stood at about $412 million. It was down to $401 million in fiscal year 2013.
This year’s police and fire budgets jumped significantly as a new contract took effect. It included pay raises for police and firefighters. The police budget was about $426 million. The fire budget was $219 million.
Senior Cpl. Todd, of the Fraternal Order of Police, said those increases didn’t restore the pay that police officers lost in the lean years. He also said it’s galling, given that a majority of council members have backed a plan to give themselves a 60 percent pay raise, and the current city manager makes almost a $100,000 more than his predecessor.
“I have seven-year officers that are making base pay,” he said. “They were promised a whole lot more than that. ...It's mismanagement at city hall.”