As activity in the Dallas CBD resumes as the pandemic abates, Downtown Dallas Inc. is launching an operation this summer to improve public safety.
The economic development group plans to partner with law enforcement to strengthen security and expand awareness efforts for the homeless. The operation will also support cleanup and code enforcement efforts to help improve the overall quality of life downtown.
Kourtny Garrett, president and CEO of Downtown Dallas Inc., said the group’s financial commitment to add staff comes in anticipation of more people returning to work, as well as more and more people coming to the workplace. heart of town for dining, entertainment and shopping.
“Safe and clean, as we call it in our industry, is our number one priority,” she said. “It’s fundamental for the city center. “
Downtown Dallas Inc. is funded by voluntary membership dues as well as revenue collected from owners of the Downtown Improvement District. The organization also contracts with the city for certain projects and programs. Its members include companies in the hotel and hospitality sectors, property developers and the media. (DallasNews Corp., The morning news from Dallasparent company, is a member.)
Garrett said the organization did not need any additional funding for its summer public safety plan.
As part of the plan, the organization will pay Dallas Police on leave to increase patrolling downtown during rush hour. Additionally, the group said it would devote more staff to reporting code violations to authorities and city officials.
During the summer operation, the organization said Dallas police will increase park checks and park rule enforcement. Downtown Dallas Inc. will also share information with authorities on “hot spots” based on patrols and complaints.
Although tackling homelessness is a focal point of the operation, Garrett stressed that the goal is not to criminalize homelessness or to displace people from the city center.
“Too often homelessness is criminalized,” she said. “So there has to be a real understanding of whether an individual is really committing a crime or whether it is an individual who has some kind of example in their life that could be improved with help. from one of our service partners. “
Garrett said the organization fosters relationships with those in need through its Homeless Outreach Team, an initiative created in 2018. The team, identifiable by their purple polo shirts and vehicles, strive to find long-term solutions for homeless people. she said.
So far this year, the outreach team has engaged more than 2,000 times with people who experience some level of homelessness, according to Downtown Dallas Inc. , 157 were reconnected with long-term support networks and 118 received assistance in finding shelter.
Downtown Dallas Inc. said it plans to expand its field operations teams – which work in homeless assistance, cleanliness and safety – from around 55 to more than 80. At From July 12, the organization also plans to add a director to oversee the homeless. awareness program.
Peter Brodsky, chairman of the board of directors of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, said the economic development group is a valuable partner in tackling homelessness in the downtown area.
“They kind of got into an area that frankly shouldn’t be one of their core competencies,” he said.
Brodsky said additional staff for the economic development group’s homeless outreach team would work well in tandem with the recently announced Rapid Relocation Initiative, a multi-million dollar effort to find shelter for more than half of Dallas’ homeless population by 2023.
“It’s a good thing for them to be able to refer someone to this program and hopefully have a much better chance of finding them immediately in housing,” he said. “So for me, everything is very symbiotic.”
When asked how an increased police presence might affect homeless people who are uncomfortable with law enforcement, Brodsky said he believed Downtown Dallas Inc. would handle the interactions of reasonable way.
“Their approach is not at all a punitive enforcement approach,” he said. “So I don’t think the extra police are really meant to solve the homelessness issues. “
Scott Goldstein, spokesperson for Downtown Dallas Inc., said the part of the plan that aims to increase the visibility of the police in the downtown area will not result in a drastic change in the number of officers in the area.
“Usually it will be rush hour for travel, late nights, early mornings,” he said.
Dallas Deputy Police Chief Israel Herrera said the summer’s public safety efforts will help deter aggressive driving and speeding, as well as property crime and suspicious activity in the center. -city.
Herrera said the Downtown Dallas Inc. partnership provides a chance to share information and cooperate on solutions.
“We’re just trying to make sure that we don’t give all problems a one-size-fits-all approach,” he said. “When they improve they make us better and that’s all that matters is working with each other, networking with information and intelligence.”
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said in a written statement that collaboration between law enforcement, institutions and communities is necessary to prioritize public safety in the city.
“I am encouraged by the evidence-based action plan that Downtown Dallas Inc. is implementing in partnership with other agencies to ensure the continued success of our vibrant downtown,” said Johnson. “This is the kind of collaboration we need to build a safer Dallas.”
People who work in downtown bars and restaurants said they support efforts to increase public safety.
Zach Tougas, bartender at Green Door Public House, said he welcomes awareness efforts to increase public safety, but has not seen a noticeable increase in problems between bar patrons and the homeless of the region.
“We didn’t notice anything too crazy,” he said. “Nothing outside of normal downtown life. You expect to see it.
Chris O’Neal, general manager of the sports bar and restaurant Press Box Grill, said he regularly interacts with homeless people in the area and, like Tougas, said he appreciates the support of local organizations.
“If there is someone who is ready to help, I am happy to receive help. It doesn’t matter if it was before the pandemic or now, ”O’Neal said.
Jesuorobo Enobakhare Jr., chairman of the city’s community policing oversight board, said the city-appointed board had not been contacted by Downtown Dallas Inc. about the summer safety plan.
The board is working with the Dallas Police Department to recommend reforms, but is also a channel of communication between the community and law enforcement to highlight law enforcement concerns, Enobakhare said. .
While he hopes the best for the initiative, Enobakhare said he also hopes groups such as Downtown Dallas Inc. can work with the supervisory board to move forward.
“It would be great if groups like this would contact the police oversight office and say, ‘How can we team up to make sure we are able to prevent crime and protect businesses without harming civil rights? “” Enobakhare mentioned.