Dallas police will still send officers to low priority calls after controversial 911 memo

Dallas police officers on Monday cleared the recording of an unsigned 911 center memo, released early last week, stating that the police would no longer be sent on certain non-urgent calls.

The communications debacle resulted in a firestorm last week and throughout the weekend that prompted police officers to conduct an internal investigation to determine how the memo leaked before police discussed the issue with members of the Dallas City Council.

The memo, which came from the 911 call center but was not allowed to be published, said the police would no longer respond to 12 different low priority calls such as theft and custody interference. Those calls would be eligible for call forwarding instead, according to the Memo, which means a person would simply file an online report.

On Monday, Dallas Police Major Israel Herrera said he wanted to make it clear that call diversions would only take place in cases where a person is not at risk.

“When someone is in danger, a police officer is obviously dispatched,” Herrera said Monday during a meeting of the city’s public security committee.

The suggestion that the police would not respond to certain calls sparked some hysteria, particularly around custody. However, police said a reaction is typical in a case where a person does not show up in time to pick up or drop off a child in a shared detention center – as long as a child is not in immediate danger. Police officers said these reports are usually filed by people who want to take them to a family court.

Over the weekend, council members and police officers had to react to frantic calls as social media platforms – from Facebook to the conservative Parler platform, which has since been deactivated – spread misinformation on the unsigned memo.

Interim Police Chief Lonzo Anderson said the memo did not make it to his office, adding that such a proposal would require police chief approval.

The problem undoubtedly points to organizational communication errors that incoming Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia will have to sort out with his command staff from February.

When Garcia was reached by phone on Monday, KPMG made good recommendations for improving efficiency, but also wants to consider how changes may affect the public.

“Everything from staff to call forwarding are great recommendations – but then it’s our job to overlay the human cost,” he said. “What does that mean for the church?”

He agreed that it was an early memo that should not be published.

Call the diversion program

The redirection of online reporting in the police stations of the big cities is increasing. Cities like Los Angeles, Phoenix, Seattle, and Fort Worth use similar programs.

In Dallas, the program launched in 2019 to keep patrol officers on the street for critical calls rather than sending them on low priority incidents. A multi-year personnel review published in 2019 by the consulting firm KPMG revealed that the department was not using the officers efficiently.

Police officers used Monday’s public safety committee meeting to provide background information on the online call forwarding program. The Dallas Police Department can already redirect calls for minor car accidents, vehicle break-ins, graffiti, criminal mischief, and custody interference.

The Dallas Police Department reported an average of 1,250 online reports per month in 2020.

The now-invalid memo was also criticized by Governor Greg Abbott on January 2 when it spread on social media. In response to the memo, he made conservative speeches about restoring “law and order” and the dangers of defusing the police – despite the Dallas Police budget increasing for 2021.

We’re not going to allow this California-style lawlessness in Texas.

We will give priority to supporting our police and not defusing them.

The state of Texas will start work this month to fix this.

Everyone in our state deserves to be protected from crime.

We will restore law and order to Texas. https://t.co/WyCyEOMccd

– Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) January 2, 2021

Correct the data record

City officials said Monday the early release of the memo damaged public confidence.

Now it’s about how the police will educate people through the online reporting system. Councilor Cara Mendelsohn said the department needs to “strategize” how it will communicate the use of online reports and the possible expansion of the program.

The now withdrawn memo offered little instruction, she said.

“I think it’s so broad that people don’t understand,” Mendelsohn said of the now revoked memo.

Herrera said the job would be entrusted to neighborhood police officers, part of the department’s community police, who would help inform homeowners associations, businesses and community groups.

Police also said there are plans to continue teaching people in Spanish and English. Patrol officers are also trained in the system.

According to the snafu announcement, police officers suspended all plans to divert other low-level calls. Police said they will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the call forwarding program to measure efficiency targets.

Future changes in the process would be submitted to the Public Safety Committee for discussion.

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