In the days that followed the July 7 shooting of four Dallas police officers and one transportation officer, the community outpouring of support was “positive in the extreme,” said City Manager A. C. Gonzalez. Postings on social media by protesters who depicted “scene after scene of police officers protecting protesters” to a five-fold increase in job applications to the police force are a couple of examples of the support. Gonzalez points out that the community response was the result of more than three decades of hard work—on the part of the city and the residents. He referenced a manual the city developed focused on community oriented policing that was put in place in 1994 and called for a cultural shift in policing.
In an October webinar hosted by the Alliance for Innovation (available here for AFI members), Gonzalez shared some of the community policing initiatives and programs Dallas had begun implementing in the early 1990s that have resulted in a dramatic improvement in crime statistics and in metrics such as police involved shootings, improper and excessive force complaints, and officers injured by suspects.
- Improvement in the diversity of the police force and command staff, which is now close to 50% nonwhite, better reflecting the demographics of the community.
- Street strategy changes that included modifying nuances of speech, tone, even how officers start out a call—taking time to think through how to approach a situation.
- Increasing public outreach via social media, video, and other digital strategies—some topics have generated millions of web views.
- Toning down force and focusing on de-escalation.
- Adopting reality-based training so officers can get the “real feel” of how they might react to a variety of scenarios.
- Building a community network that advises the chief on a wide range of issues.
- Assigning neighborhood police officers so that every part of the city has a dedicated unit that is responsible for things like crime watch meetings and working with the community to address social issues before behavior becomes criminal.
- Establishing ongoing events and activities where community members interact with officers. Here are just a few of the many programs Gonzalez cited:
- Chief on the Beat: An opportunity for the chief plus his command staff to meet with residents in all types of venues, including Dallas’s Love Field. Gonzalez said it is not uncommon to have 1,000 people at these events.
- Coffee with Cops: In partnership with McDonald’s, officers meet over coffee with residents in events held simultaneously in each patrol division.
- Police Athletic League: To show that officers care about kids and can be a resource for them, police officers coach and advise youth athletic teams throughout the city.
- Explorer Program: Training and community service activities targeting youths from 14 to 21 who are interested in law enforcement careers.
- Blue in the School: A partnership between Dallas police, Dallas public schools, and Verizon where officers teach four one-hour sessions to 4th graders.
- Invest. Gonzalez did point out that while these measures have been effective, the budget for the department has nearly doubled between 2000 and today. But as he said, the current crime rate in the city of Dallas is lower than it has been since the 1950s, so from his perspective it’s worth it.
Click here to download an abbreviated and updated checklist from an ICMA developed Community Oriented Public Safety Workbook.
This month we are continuing our focus on Resilient Communities in times of Disruptive Change with a focus on public safety. Visit icma.org/DisruptiveChange for more resources.