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Dallas County Considers Mental Health Alternatives to Heavy-Handed Policing

Dallas County Considers Mental Health Alternatives to Heavy-Handed Policing

A summer of unrest sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis has sparked discussions about police reforms and alternatives to incarceration such as mental health programs. Dallas is part of that discussion.

Dallas County officials will ask commissioners to create a $3 million grant program next month to help cities pay for policing alternatives, the Dallas Morning News reported. Floyd, an African American man, died on May 25th as police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck while he was pinned to the floor. The killing caused months of demonstrations and unrest.

As Dallas-based criminal defense attorneys, we are acutely aware of how any time behind bars can ruin an offender’s prospects and consign them to a life of crime and despair. We realize heavy-handed policing can escalate a situation and result in more serious charges being brought against the accused.

The Morning News reported on how Darryl Martin, the county administrator, is looking to pitch proposals for more alternatives to Draconian punishments on Sept. 1 when county commissioners consider his proposed budget.

He will request about $1 million to help establish an alternative to jail proposed by District Attorney John Creuzot and a further $1 million for other programs such as eviction protection that can help keep people off the streets where they are more likely to offend.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins is supporting Martin. He tasked the county administrator with leading a working group of activists and city managers to respond to the calls of protestors.

Earlier this month, community activists released a report with 10 key recommendations. Although defunding the police is not on the table, the group suggested replacing police in some important areas.

It concluded the Dallas Police Department “shall not be the first responder to mental health calls unless a firearm is involved.”

It called on the City of Dallas and Dallas County to create a program that assigns teams of mental health professionals or other experts in counseling or social work, where appropriate, to mental health calls.

Teams would also provide support to police officers when responding to calls over people who are threatening suicide with a firearm.

The report called for city and county officials to increase their investment in alternatives to a police response.

“The County Judge and the City of Dallas shall increase investment in alternatives to police response. The County Judge and the City of Dallas shall create a task force to identify and recommend alternative ways to respond to harm and to increase safety in the community with budget allocations to sponsor the first initiatives in the coming budget year.”

Cities taking part in the initiative are Dallas, DeSoto, Balch Springs, Irving, Lancaster, and Mesquite. The Morning News reported each city will make investments of various amounts into programs to help underserved communities.

Several cities plan to pump more money into mental health programs that may help divert people who suffer mental health disorders away from jail as well as providing better training for first responders. Mesquite is earmarking about $100,000 for mental health services, including boosting training for its fire and police departments. It will work with the county and nearby cities to establish a team of first responders who can answer mental health calls. The blueprint is a program in Oregon that works inside the 911 system without police involvement.

Dallas County commissioners recently passed a resolution that calls on police to write more tickers rather than arrest offenders for low-level misdemeanors.

Dallas-based attorneys Broden & Mickelsen have fought hard for the rights of defendants for decades. Our case results include many instances in which we have kept people accused of crimes out of prison. Please call us if you have been accused of a crime at (214) 720-9552.

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