DALLAS — In a meeting that started Wednesday morning and ended early Thursday morning, the Dallas City Council gave preliminary support for an amendment that would cut $7 million from the Dallas Police Department overtime budget.
Amendment 43, authored by District 7 councilmember Adam Bazaldua, moves the funding into a variety of programs, including $2 million to modernize traffic signals, $1 million for streetlights, and $1.6 million for DPD to hire 21 civilian full-time employees.
"We need to kind of re-imagine public safety," Bazaldua told WFAA on Thursday. "I don’t consider this defunding the police, I consider this 21st century policing.”
The amendment had six co-sponsors with a total of 11 councilmembers indicating support in an informal straw poll late Wednesday.
It was one of 80 amendments the council debated during a meeting that lasted more than 12 hours ahead of a final vote to approve a more than $3.8 billion budget on Sept. 23.
On Thursday, leaders from two associations that represent Dallas Police officers said they are concerned cutting nearly 30-percent of the overtime budget will have a negative impact on public safety.
George Aranda with the Dallas chapter of the National Latino Law Enforcement Organization says he was shocked with the council's support of the cut.
"They (council) surprised us last night," Aranda said Thursday. "For some reason there’s this notion that we’re not doing enough.”
Terrance Hopkins with the Black Police Association of Greater Dallas said officers want a more efficient DPD too, but taking overtime funding now sends a conflicting message.
"In one breath you want us to lower crime but you’re taking away the very resources that we use to combat crime," Hopkins said.
Bazaldua on Wednesday night said the council would send the wrong message by continuing to fund $25-30 million dollars for DPD overtime when the department has approximately 1,000 officers "sitting behind a desk."
"We're going to perpetuate a vicious cycle that we know will almost be impossible to break unless we actually make a bold decision," Bazaldua said.
DPD has $24 million budgeted for overtime for the proposed 2021 budget starting Oct. 1.
Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall told councilmembers the DPD overtime budget for the current fiscal year was $26.4 million, but the department had already used $31.1 million in overtime.
District 12 councilmember Cara Mendelsohn opposed the amendment, saying DPD already proposed a $2.4 million reduction in overtime in the proposed budget.
"We're going to end up going into our reserve funds to pay for it," Mendelsohn said. "And the reserve funds are not there as an operating contingency for something we know is going to happen."
Earlier Wednesday, the council rejected three amendments from Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson to cut $6.5 million from City Hall employee executive salaries to pay for a variety of public safety initiatives.
Johnson, sensing the amendments didn't have the needed support to advance in the budget process, said the council is sending the message it refuses to reduce pay at city hall, even during an economic downturn.
"If not now – then lets just be honest and say – never," Johnson said. "Salaries only go up at the city of Dallas. That’s all we do, pay people more money to do the same job even when the rest of the world is suffering.”