According to recent polling data gathered by The Dallas Morning News, the number one concern on the minds of Dallas voters as they approach the mayoral election?
Not much new there, I'd say.
Over the past several years Dallas has received lots of bad news concerning its national ranking as a leading center for urban criminal activity. One report called Dallas the nation's most dangerous city. Crime statistics have not been going down around town over the past decade, that's for sure.
Naturally, folks from every quarter and sector of the city are concerned about public safety.
It is sort of amusing to watch and to listen to the candidates react so quickly to the latest information about voters' concerns and thoughts.
What to do about crime?
Just about every candidate, with the exception of Dallas City Council Member Don Hill, has laid out aggressive plans for beefing up the size and quality of the Dallas Police Department. One candidate is even talking about, God forbid (!), increases in sales or property taxes to fund the force growth. Others claim that the economic growth of the city can handle the cost of the additional officers that the city needs.
Dallas probably does need more officers on its force.
But, I think Mr. Hill is correct when he argues that the most viable, sustainable, high-impact way to really "take a bite out of crime"will involve the city in addressing issues not normally associated with crime at all.
Want to reduce crime and criminal activity in the city? Consider these steps that take the longer view:
1) Commit significant, continuing public funds, that in turn leverage private investment dollars, to comprehensive, strategic economic development in the poorest parts of the city. The level of funds needed will not be in the tens of millions, but in the hundreds of millions in the near term with total investments beyond the billions over the next two decades.
Part of the plan would include a genuine and thoroughly robust land bank nested in the City's Department of Housing. The Office of Economic Development would also be strengthened beyond recognition as it now exists. Tax incentives of every kind would be utilized to the fullest extent possible from start to finish in the process of targeting low-income, high-crime neighborhoods.
2) Require mixed income developments and affordable, workforce housing "set asides" for every new development in more affluent parts of the city. Payments into the City's housing trust fund in lieu of the required set asides should be a limited option for developers.
Retail development in the "easier," wealthier parts of town would be contingent on comparable development in the "harder," poorer sections of town. The development of grocery stores in the "food deserts" of Dallas would be mandated and developed strategically with the City even issuing RFPs for their construction.
3) Surround our public school system with the support, resources, accountability and unyielding attention provided by a new partnership drawn from across the city, involving every public and civic institution.
4) Develop and market a new, aggressive and appropriate range of workforce development opportunities so that labor in Dallas could actually rise to a skill set level that commands a livable wage.
5) Add additional police officers to the force while shifting the focus of their work to "community policing" that includes the proliferation of police store fronts and coordination of efforts with the Community Prosecutors initiative. At the same time, expand the Community Prosecutors program.
6) Add much needed staff to the city's Code Enforcement Department. Attention to quality of life issues in our poorer neighborhoods will have a positive, long term impact on crime.
Dollars invested to improve the lives of all of our citizens will have a greater, longer lasting effect on crime than by focusing all of our attention on punitive measures. By targeting the city's high crime "hot spots" for these investments, our community will realize great returns both now and over the longer term.