Mayor unveils task force’s official report

Task Force
Mayor Eric Johnson, along with members of his Task Force on Safe Communities, present the group's office report. – The Dallas Examiner screenshot from a video from the mayor's office

 

Special to The Dallas Examiner

 

The Mayor’s Task Force on Safe Communities, formed by Mayor Eric Johnson nine weeks after being in office, unveiled its official report outlining a series of recommendations to reduce violent crime in Dallas, Jan 9.

“I am proud of the Task Force’s work,” Johnson said. “The thought and effort they put into producing this report is evident and commendable. I want to especially thank my co-chairs, Alan Cohen, Rene Martinez, and Pastor Michael Bowie, for their service.”

The mission of the task force over the past several months has been to identify tangible and evidence-based solutions for reducing urban gun violence in Dallas that are actionable and meet the criteria as follows:

  • Informed by the lived experience of the community.
  • Evidence-based, research-backed, and data-driven.
  • Outside the realm of traditional law enforcement and policing.

The Task Force noted a clear connection between gun violence and community issues, such as historical disinvestment, joblessness, racial equity, the current gun policy, lack of educational opportunities, and the despair that some people feel in the most economically distressed areas of Dallas. It stated that these root-cause issues – which intersected with both places and people – must stay front-and-center for Dallas’s leaders. Yet the magnitude of the root-cause issues should be a “both-and,” not an “either-or,” when it comes to taking immediate and tangible action that will help stop the violence.

The task force offered recommendations based on insights from conversations with hundreds of Dallas residents, including residents of high-violence neighborhoods, students, community and faith leaders, families and friends of victims, police officers and ex-offenders; Dallas police statistics that show violent crimes scattered throughout the city; and evidence-based strategies backed by rigorous research and a track record of success in other cities who had faced similar issues as Dallas.

This report focuses primarily on four specific strategies that have research-backed, empirically supported results specific to reducing shootings and violent crimes in other cities:

  1. Remediate blighted buildings and abandoned lots in high-violence locations.

A street pockmarked with overgrown lots and plywood boards signals neglect from the local government and the private sector, inviting crime, further disorder, and instilling fear in the people who live there.

The report cited a study in which Philadelphia – with 1.5 million residents – partnered with one of its local nonprofit organizations to carryout an anti-blight ordinance, resulting in a 39 percent reduction in firearm assaults.

The report calculated a 3.65 percent reduction in Dallas’ violent crime per year.

  1. Add outdoor lighting in locations where nighttime violence has been most severe.

The report stated that economists and psychologists have indicated over the years that small changes to people’s immediate environments can have a great impact on their behaviors.

In 2015, a report sent to the Dallas City Council cited street lighting as a top safety concern among residents. Recently, the city obtained research demonstrating the effectiveness of lighting to deterring urban violence. A recently released randomized controlled trial – the gold standard in scientific research – showed that this strategy paid off in some of New York City’s high-crime neighborhoods, reducing crime by 36 percent.

The report calculated a 0.41 percent reduction in Dallas’ nighttime violent crime per year.

  1. Utilize schools to deliver group support that teaches kids to pause before they act.

The report note the culture surrounding some schools includes an unspoken code that aggression will be met with aggression. Moreover, those who chose not to fight could become a target for aggression. As a result, violence may become normalized.

In recent years, schools across Dallas have thoughtfully integrated social-emotional learning into their academic mission: schools now intentionally teach lessons to students about mindfulness, responsible decision-making, self-awareness, relationship skills, and more. All students need and benefit from these skills. However, for students at high risk of finding themselves in violent surroundings, an even deeper investment to provide small group support through our schools that teach the benefits of slowing down thoughts and actions may be life-saving, the report noted.

It also noted that specialized support led to a 49 percent reduction in student-related crimes.

The report calculated a 16.6 percent reduction in Dallas’ violent crime involving juveniles per year.

  1. Hire and train credible messengers from within high-violence neighborhoods as “violence interrupters” to keep resolvable conflicts from escalating into gun violence.

The report stated that anything from a fight over gang turf to a perceived insult can set of a chain of retaliatory attacks in communities severely affected by crime. Many experts now advocate for interventions to stop the violence from spreading, treating it like a contagious disease. A crime prevention strategy, most prominently known as Cure Violence, would deploy credible neighborhood residents to contain disputes before they turn deadly, rather than relying on professional social workers or law enforcement.

The citizen, preferably a former gang member, would be hired as a “violence interrupter” to handle various disputes between citizens, in order to find a compromise or resolution before the dispute escalates.

The report cited a study in which Chicago neighborhoods that used the initiative saw a 38 percent reduction in homicides.

The report calculated a 50.7 percent reduction in Dallas’ violent crime incidents per year.

“The Mayor’s Task Force on Safe Communities’ report challenges us to do more to address the conditions that foster violent crime and to look at the issue holistically,” Johnson said. “By combining these recommendations with an ambitious, carefully crafted law enforcement crime plan, I believe we can, within the next five years, reach the record lows for violent crime we saw in 2013 and 2014 in this city, and that must be our goal.”

The report did not offer advice on how the recommendations should be implemented. However, it stated that funding and programming would likely require multiple sources, including governmental and non-governmental support and a careful selection of people and organizations to implement the recommendations – stating that such decision-making should be made by the appropriate policymakers.

The task force suggested that an “on-going focus and sustained push” for progress by leaders in the community and government – with both short- and long-term solutions – would be required in order to address crime in a holistic manner.

Beyond the four recommendations, the group offered a few suggestions, such as programs that increase activities for youth to help students transitioning from the school year to summer vacation. It also advocated for more summer job opportunities for students in underserved communities. It went on to recommend garnishing support from churches and organizations throughout the city that already have programs that focus on community support and reducing crime and/or recidivism.

The report also suggested that the city develop its own policies regarding guns, on top of the state’s regulations. Last, it stated that resolving issues like access to basic needs, health care, living-wage jobs and public safety were important increasing the quality of life, therefore helping to reduce crime.

The report was endorsed in a letter by eight respected criminologists from across the country and in Canada.

“The methodology and final recommendations laid out by this citizen task force included input from a diverse set of stakeholders, utilize empirical evidence that meets rigorous research standards, and employs data-analysis to contextualize achievable action-steps,” the letter stated. “If the recommendations of the Mayor’s Task Force are folded into a comprehensive plan that uses similar standards of evidence to inform policing strategies, given the time and resources to be implemented using data-driven principles, and evaluated for effectiveness on an ongoing basis, Dallas will have strong reason to be optimistic about public safety in the future.”

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