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Good News Dallas
by Special to    Wed, Feb 22, 2006, 02:16 PM

On Tuesday, a Park Cities Republican Women’s Club event featured speeches by a number of Republican candidates running in March’s primary. Anita Perry also spoke at the event.

According to one source present at the event, the candidates were asked to find their opponents and group together with them. This was intended to make the event run more efficiently since candidates could give their speeches as soon as the contested races were called out.

One incumbent running for Dallas County Clerk, however, refused to stand next to her opponent as her opponent gave her speech. Cynthia Calhoun, who is the current Dallas County Clerk, apparently stood far away from the front of the room as her opponent, Carolyn Garon, spoke to the attendees. When Carolyn Garon finished speaking, only then did Calhoun come to the front of the room to give her speech. According to our Republican source, who was present at the event, Calhoun’s behavior appeared petulant and unprofessional to the Republican women who were in attendance.

The same source also noted that there were many empty chairs at the event. Apparently, Mrs. Perry did not even fill the room. The source said that the speeches by primary candidates were hurried through before Mrs. Perry spoke.

Could this be an indication of a low turnout in the Republican primary? If so, that could be a good sign for Carol Keeton Strayhorn’s independent candidacy for Governor.

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by Trey Garrison    Wed, Feb 22, 2006, 12:35 PM

The Dallas City Council will consider the issue of landing fees at Dallas Love Field, which have been frozen at 35 cents per thousand pounds for the last 20 years.

The rate is the lowest of nearly any airport in the country, and given how cash strapped city hall is, it's likely the rate will be going up the proposed 20 cents per thousand pounds. Southwest Airlines is the largest airline operating at the airport, representing almost one-third of all flights.

Update: Yep - they did it.

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by Mike Fisher    Wed, Feb 22, 2006, 09:22 AM

With every action comes an opposite and equal reaction. Which still doesn't explain what the Mavs and Rangers have done with ticket prices. Read all about it in "The School of Fish''. ...

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by Scott Bennett    Wed, Feb 22, 2006, 01:46 AM

Today The Dallas News produced a poll of 1482 registered voters informing us that 52% of all Texans favor additional spending on education versus 39% who oppose it. The only group out of step with more spending was “Republicans” who opposed additional spending by 46% to 44% margin; pretty much a tie. Beyond that the News story was a bit skimpy with details.

Another poll released yesterday was longer on detail. While this poll was paid for by the less than unbiased Texas State Teacher Association (the Texas arm of the National Education Association) it was conducted by the respected Tarrance Group. The poll of 893 registered voters found to no one’s surprise that 42% of all Texans named “education” as the state’s most important issue. That was up 4% over last year. Only 16% named “cutting property taxes” as the state’s top priority.

The most interesting result was that 69% wanted to see more state money invested in education. When read the statement “our children deserve better, and we can give them an excellent education by fully funding the proven reform already in place, and investing more money in public education” 64% said “yes.” This question was counter posed with “we can provide our children with a good, adequate education by using our current education dollars, so we should not invest more money in public education” which drew a 29% positive response.

When similar statements were counter posed the poll found that 58% wanted a pay raise given to all teachers while 39% preferred that raises be tied to student performance tests. While 70% of Texas voters want higher education standards it appears that “testing” as a measure of achievement is losing favor with 56% saying there is too much emphasis on testing.

Obviously the TSTA was not going to release a poll whose conclusions were counter to its interests. However, that doesn’t mean the poll is biased. To the extent the Dallas News offered much information on its poll results they seem in good agreement with the TSTA.

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by Scott Bennett    Tue, Feb 21, 2006, 11:40 PM

The Texas Education Agency could publish proposed rules on the expectation that 65 percent or more of all education dollars go to the classroom sometime in the next few weeks. The rules will be proposed as amendments to the state’s financial accountability standards.

Several ideas have been floated for possible inclusion in the new standards. One possibility is making compliance with the 65 percent standard worth five points on the state’s financial accountability ratings. Another is allowing districts to post their checkbook on the Internet as an alternative to complying with the 65 percent standard. Another idea floated would be to require 70 percent, but allow inclusion of librarians, counselors, and nurses.

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by Scott Bennett    Tue, Feb 21, 2006, 11:37 PM

Gov. Rick Perry and Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn once again fired rhetorical shots at each other this afternoon. Perry, at a speech to the Texas Business and Education Coalition, accused Strayhorn of trashing the accomplishment of Texas teachers and parents for political gain. Strayhorn accused Perry of failing Texas teachers and students and challenged him to a debate on education policy.

“Our record in education is one that all Texans can be proud of, and much of the credit goes to those members of the reform movement who spent years – decades, in some cases – faithfully fighting for higher standards, stronger accountability, and a renewed focus on the fundamentals of learning,” Perry said. He cited improved passing rates on the state’s exam, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, as evidence. "The next time someone criticizes the state of schools in Texas in order to advance their political agenda, feel free to debate them that our children have come as far as children in any state and further than most, despite tougher challenges."

Strayhorn, however, argued the system is under-funded and reiterated her call for higher pay for teachers. “This state’s governor has failed our children and failed our teachers,” Strayhorn said. She cited the state’s low scores on college entrance examinations as evidence that the schools are not performing up to expectations.

Perry and Strayhorn did get into a specific debate over whether the state is spending more or less per student on K-12 education from the 2004 fiscal year to the 2005 fiscal year. Strayhorn used National Education Association statistics to argue per-student spending went down. But Robert Scott, chief deputy commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, told reporters the statistic is wrong. Scott said that the state deferred one month of Foundation School Program payments as a part of the budget adopted in 2003. He said, after this delayed payment is accounted for, per-student spending went up, not down. When asked about this, Strayhorn challenged Perry to a debate on education statistics and policy.

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by Scott Bennett    Tue, Feb 21, 2006, 11:34 PM

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn blasted Gov. Rick Perry for the increases in college costs since he assumed office. Strayhorn said that university tuition and fees have climbed 95.54 percent since 1999 and community college fees have climbed 71.45 percent since 1999. Strayhorn also questioned cuts in per-student university funding

Strayhorn was asked whether she believed the legislature made a mistake when it passed tuition deregulation – the transfer of tuition setting authority from the elected legislature to the appointed university regents. “I had recommended deregulating tuition,” Strayhorn said. “But I never in my wildest imagination [that] the state would continue to cut funding for higher education.

At that time, the reason we recommended tuition deregulation [in the e-Texas report] is because the state was not increasing funding to higher education, the state was not keeping up. And now, since deregulation, the state not only did not stay the same, the state has further cut funding to higher education. I believe we need to get together and talk about this.”

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by Trey Garrison    Tue, Feb 21, 2006, 06:32 PM

The Dallas Police Department is in the initial phase of installing 34 cameras at “major flash points” for activity in the central business district, paid for by a one-year, $840,000 grant from the Meadows Foundation, and they have the approval of the city council’s public safety committee. The police can't wait to expand the program and create a surveillance net across the city.

The glitch? The evidence is there that police cameras are an expensive boondoggle that don't reduce crime.

“We have a lot of crime happening late at night in the central business district. We think these cameras are a way to address these problems,” said Dallas Police Lt. T.W. Lawrence, head of the CBD division.

The cameras to be installed are wireless, line of sight cameras mounted on traffic signals in self-contained pods. The cameras are capable of pan, tilt and zoom functions, and provide long-term image storage, not just live monitoring.

Plano-based Virtual Surveillance provided 15 cameras for free in Deep Ellum from December 2004 to March 2005. Lt. Lawrence cited crime reduction rates in the area, but admitted they couldn’t be directly attributed to the cameras.

The city plans to complete bid specifications by the end of February, with all bids deadlined on April 15, and contract award by April 30. The city hopes to start installing the cameras by May 15, with the system on-line and operational by October 1.

The police department is on record saying it wants to expand this project to other areas of the city as funding becomes available.

“We’re trying to put in place something we can quickly expand,” Lt. Lawrence said.

He also expressed a desire to link the DPD camera system to private business camera systems.

Councilmember Leo V. Chaney, Jr. expressed serious concerns about how these cameras would be used, and what their limits would be.

“People have serious privacy concerns,” Mr. Chaney said. “How do we address this – the privacy issues, the civil liberties issues? I’m not taking one side or the other, but people are concerned.”

Houston itself has gone camera happy, and the police chief there, Harold Hurtt, suggested last week installing police cameras in private businesses, apartments and even private homes.

In case you think that’s a joke, click here.

Houston isn't alone in being camera happy. The mayor of Chicago is radically proposing requiring cameras inside and outside every business open for more than 12 hours.

“Today we are looking strictly at cameras on public property,” Councilman Steve Salazar said. “We can address that at another time” he said, speaking of Mr. Chaney’s desire for a policy limiting police camera use.

Council Member Dr. Elba Garcia was likewise supportive of the downtown Dallas program.

“I know people are concerned about Big Brother, but the reality is that most of the studies where cameras are used they do help reduce crime, people feel safer and businesses tend to do better,” she said.

Except that’s not the case at all.

The problem is that evidence shows that surveillance cameras really don’t have any effect on crime.

As our “go to” legal affairs blog, Grits for Breakfast astutely notes, London, England is the most surveilled city in the world, with more police surveillance cameras in public than any other city.

And yet the British Home Office last year released a long-term study on the topic, which admitted that surveillance cameras didn’t reduce crime, confirming previous research.

The report's author, Professor Martin Gill of the University of Leicester, said: "For supporters these findings are disappointing. For the most part CCTV did not produce reductions in crime and did not make people feel safer."

The only one of the 14 schemes found to be a success was targeted at car parks, where it led to a significant drop in vehicle crime. Other schemes in city centres, residential areas and hospitals produced no clear benefits.

Councilman Gary Griffith said he hoped the next step in the expansion would be locations like the parking lot at White Rock Lake, an area about which he receives regular complaints.

Others on the public safety committee were more cautious.

“I have serious concerns, but I’m pleased to hear we have very tight controls, and I look forward to ensuring we have safeguards for this,” said Council Member Angela Hunt.

Scott Henson, who has been covering the issue of police surveillance for years in Texas and serves as author of Grits for Breakfast, thinks Dallas is going the wrong way.

While cameras may not make us safer, there's no question they make us more exposed to possible privacy violations. … To quote a past Grits commenter, "There's no replacement for boots on the ground - none."

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by Trey Garrison    Tue, Feb 21, 2006, 06:02 PM

The Dallas Police Department in 2005 responded to 606,975 calls for service and made 231,443 documented traffic contacts, according to an audit presented to the city council’s public safety committee today.

Out of the 838,418 contacts, only 10 (or .001 percent) resulted in a complaint being filed with the Internal Affairs unit alleging racial or other profiling. Seven of those 10 resulted from discretionary stops.

That was not a misprint: only 10 complaints of racial profiling were filed in 838,418 contacts between police and citizens in Dallas through all of 2005.

Of the 10 complaints filed, six were judged to be unfounded, three cases were inconclusive, and one is still under investigation.

Tempest in a Teapot, or Failure to Report?

The chief of the Dallas Police Department admitted that, on an individual incident basis, racial profiling is a difficult proposition to establish.

“The honest answer is based on individual contact with individual citizen, unless you can get inside heart and mind of officer, you can’t prove racial profiling occurred,” said DPD Chief David M. Kunkle. “We do have a very diverse police department. That’s a good control.”

Some council members were skeptical about the low number.

Both Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dr. Elba Garcia and Councilman Leo V. Chaney, Jr., said they number is low because “most people don’t know how to report racial profiling.”

“That minimizes it,” Mr. Chaney said.

Mr. Chaney said he would like to see a breakdown of the geographical location of the incidents of racial profiling.

The smallest ethnic group among the largest three is African Americans, and the largest number involved in traffic incidents is African Americans, Mr. Chaney said. “That’s all I have to say.”

Councilman James Fantroy said he wanted to know how many complaints overall are filed with the Citizens Review Board, to determine if some complaints are categorized as other than racial profiling, when that was a component of the complaint.

Councilman Mitchell Razansky had doubts.

“I know this is a very sensitive issue to some of my colleagues, I don’t see how Dallas has a serious problem with this,” Mr. Razansky said. “You could have had 838,000 complaints and we had only 10. My calculator won’t go that low. That’s amazing.”

He added, “Looks like on a percentage that of the number of contacts made, white people are the most involved in traffic contacts.”

Councilman Ron Natinsky wondered if 1/1000th percentage was even a statistically valid number.

Asked to explain why blacks and Hispanics still represent a slightly higher proportion of those in contact with Dallas Police, Dr. Robert Taylor of the University of North Texas, who helped the police department gather and analyze the data, said it has to do with operational deployment more than racial profiling.

Low Income = Higher Crime = More Contacts

Lower income areas have more crime, and minorities are disproportionately represented in lower income neighborhoods.

“You have to understand, Dallas like other large cities, has initiated a variety of enforcement techniques in low income areas which have disproportionate number of minorities. Unfortunately, in this country a lot of minorities are lower income,” he said.

The Dallas Police Department has taken a number of steps to comply with the Texas Legislature’s mandate that prohibits racial profiling, and requires departments to collect data on racial profiling.

“Racial profiling incurs the cost of eroding the trust between police and citizens, thus undermining the legitimacy of police actions,” Kunkle said. “(Citizens) must believe that they will be judged solely on their own conduct and never on racial generalizations.”

In addition to diversity and sensitivity training required for all officers, the department has installed cameras on 90 of its cruisers, with the plan to install 500 more by October 2006.

Regardless of how the statistics are interpreted, the Dallas Police Department has been upholding state requirements, set down by the Texas Legislature in 2001, for monitoring and tracking racial profiling.

The judgment from Dr. Eric Fritsch and Dr. Robert Taylor, department of criminal justice at the University of North Texas, is that the Dallas Police Department “is in compliance with applicable Texas law on the collection of racial profiling data.”

Kunkle said that although the department will continue to focus on rooting out racial profiling, the statistics won’t tell the tale, and they won’t likely change to where stops match exact racial population percentages.

“Our numbers have not changed in four years. All the cities(in Dallas’ class) have the same kind of disparities in the numbers. As a department we should train, collect the data, (work to ensure we) don’t stigmatize any community, and look at individual officers who have several complaints,” he said.

Inconclusive Data, Difficult Determinations

The police and researchers admit the data collected so far is not conclusive or supportive of any overall conclusion.

And the biggest hurdle, both agree, is determining what data to use to establish a baseline for measuring trends in racial profiling in Dallas.

The initial breakdown of contacts and population percentages reads like this, and appear to show that whites and blacks are more likely to be pulled over by police in traffic stops in numbers disproportionate to their proportion of the city population.

Hispanics, meanwhile, appear less likely to be pulled over, compared to their percentage of the city population.

By the Numbers

Year 2000
* Whites made up 35.3 percent of the population of Dallas, and represented 40.3 percent of all traffic contacts with police.
* Blacks made up 26.3 percent of the population, and represented 33.5 percent of all traffic contacts with police.
* Hispanics made up 35.3 percent of the population, and represented 25 percent of all traffic contacts with police.

Year 2004
* Whites were 30 percent of the population, and 40.3 percent of traffic contacts.
* Blacks were 23.5 percent of the population, and 33.5 percent of traffic contacts.
* Hispanics were 42 percent of the population, and 25 percent of traffic contacts.

The full report can be seen here.

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by Brian Bodine    Tue, Feb 21, 2006, 04:55 PM

Homeland Security was a hot item for the second straight week at the Dallas County Commissioners Court on Tuesday.

As County Judge Margaret Keliher announced that the court was going into recess for closed session, a local reporter objected to the decision to discuss pressing homeland security items in closed session instead of in open session, citing the Texas open meetings law.

Several other commissioners responded to the objection by saying that they were unaware that the homeland security items would be discussed in closed executive session instead of in the open court session. However, Commissioner John Wiley Price said that he knew about the intention to discuss the homeland security matter a few hours before court began.

In response to the reporter’s objection, Keliher announced that she was going to consult with the Court’s attorney. After consulting with Assistant District Attorney Bob Schell, Keliher returned and announced that the homeland security items would be discussed in the open court session next Tuesday.

At issue are several shortcomings in the Dallas Homeland Security department, including the lack of staff members, no backup generators, and the lack of an incident command center. Last week, contention erupted on the court over blame for the department’s inadequacies. The commissioners have all agreed that Dallas County is lagging behind in preparations for natural disasters and terrorism. Last week, commissioners clashed over the most appropriate way to use hundreds of thousands of dollars in homeland security funds.

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