The City Council repealed the verified response program Wednesday, causing an eruption of applause in the packed audience. This reversed the controversial policy approved in an 8-5 vote in December 2005. Dallas Police will begin responding to all alarm calls beginning October 1.
This was the first item discussed and 23 citizens stepped up to have their voices heard on the issue. Unfortunately for those expecting their customary three minutes of time, Mayor Leppert shortened the time for each speaker to one minute because there were so many speakers and a lengthy morning open microphone session ran nearly an hour.
Not only did Leppert cut everyone’s time, but when people ran over one minute, he pressed his index finger and thumb together repeatedly to indicate they needed to wrap it up. This annoying gesture can only properly be shown via video and I’ll have something posted soon.
Of the 23 speakers, five of them spoke in favor of keeping verified response while the other 18 urged the council to repeal the policy. The percentage of citizens wanting to keep verified response (22) represented the approximate percentage of council members voting against repealing the policy (27).
The four council members voting against repealing verified response were Mayor Pro Tem Dr. Elba Garcia and council members Angela Hunt, Pauline Medrano and Vonciel Hill. Dr. Garcia made a motion to bring the issue to the Public Safety Committee and then bring it back to the council in 60 days, but that was defeated 9-6. She claimed some kind of compromise could be reached where businesses who wanted to keep verified response could keep it and those who didn’t want it could have police verify their alarms. This prompted an audience member to yell, “You’re in denial!” twice at Dr. Garcia.
Councilmember Hunt pointed out that burglaries have gone down with verified response, according to the police department. She said it doesn’t make sense to take 24 officers off the street to respond to 97 percent of the false alarms. Hunt wanted the opportunity to discuss it more in a committee. She also said crime has dropped and the city is safer under Chief David Kunkle.
“We should listen to his guidance and not be swayed by politics,” Hunt said.
Councilmember Vonciel Hill echoed her statements from last Wednesday’s briefing, saying verified response is about the utilization of a scarce resource and it has worked the way it was intended to work.
Councilmember Ron Natinsky also echoed his stance from last Wednesday, saying he voted against it in 2005 and has received lots of email and letters from his constituents urging him to vote against it.
“While being supportive of the DPD and the chief, sometimes you have to listen to the public,” Natinsky said.
Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Caraway said he wants to make sure business owners don’t have to confront criminals. He said he supports the police department, but a life is not a percentage.
“Once you’ve had a .357 pointed in your face, you’re going to live with that forever.”
Even though Mayor Leppert cut the time of the speakers, he said their comments went beyond economics. He added the 24 officers used for to verify responses only represents 0.8 percent of the police department and the new budget adds 800 percent of that number. Leppert also said building the commercial tax base takes the burden off the residents and repealing verified response sends the right message to businesses.
Here is some of what Dallas citizens had to say at today’s meeting:
“I know verified response doesn’t work. I went from one to two break-ins per year to one to two per month.” - Robert Schlein
“We need to get serious. Abandon verified response, hire more police and start responding to burglaries.” - Calie Stephens, editor of dallascrime.com
“I am the first respondent to my business because it’s the survival of my business. My only request is please let my children take my business after I’m gone, not the criminal. The criminal at the moment has the upper hand.” - Harry DeMarco, merchant in Dallas for 25 years
“Do not fool yourself into thinking that this policy itself is turning crime down because it has not. It actually has kept people from reporting crime because they feel the police department isn’t going to do anything or the city isn’t going to do anything.” - Enrique Carranza, northwest Dallas business owner
“I would like to have the piece of mind to know that unnecessary time is not being wasted in verifying false alarms instead of dealing with my real emergencies. Verified response helps in doing this.” - Jessica Davis
“Out in South Dallas, people can’t afford to pay for false alarms. That’s the reason that I want to keep verified response.” - Hortencia Villegas, manages a shopping center in South Oak Cliff
“It’s kept the police working on the citizens, not just the few with alarm systems. If the chief of police supports this program, why would the council vote to repeal it?” - Dallas Tillman
“Let’s keep our men and women fighting crime and not chasing false alarms and wasting their time.” - John Roberts
“Most of the people that work for me are single women, mothers supporting their family. They have to get up by themselves, come down to verify and it’s dangerous for these women at 4 or 4:30 in the morning. So please help us.” - Shelly Musselman, owns a store on McKinney Ave
“I’ve had the personal privilege of being confronted by the burglars. The last time I verified, I was confronted twice in about 30 mintues.” - Howard Aldridge, owner of two pharmacies in southern sector
“It is vital that the economic issue in Dallas, the small business community, not feel threatened, but safe and allowed to flourish.” - CiCi Rojas, Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce