A city of Dallas memo indicating that police would not be dispatched to handle some calls about crimes was abruptly rescinded over the weekend as the department announced that it had been issued prematurely.
The memo, which drew criticism from Gov. Greg Abbott as it spread on social media, said officers would not be dispatched for 911 calls about graffiti, credit and debit card fraud and vehicle burglaries — though personnel would be sent if there were signs of “ongoing disturbance or distress.”
Instead, in most situations, callers would be directed to file information through an online reporting system. Other crimes mentioned in the memo, dated Jan. 1, included criminal mischief, theft, interference with child custody, lost property, reckless damage and harassing phone calls.
Abbott responded to news of the memo Saturday on Twitter, saying: “The state of Texas will begin work this month to fix this.”
“Everyone in our state deserves to be safe from crime,” he said. “We will restore law and order in Texas.”
Later that evening, Dallas police said the memo had been rescinded because it was issued prematurely while the department is still evaluating the proposal to direct callers to the online reporting system, which was introduced in June 2019 to help with staffing shortages.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said Sunday that he and incoming police Chief Eddie Garcia hadn’t been aware of the plan detailed in the rescinded memo.
“Major changes such as these should be discussed publicly and vetted thoroughly, and any decisions about public safety must put the people of Dallas first,” he said.
City Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates said in a written statement that she had been notified the memo had been rescinded, KXAS-TV (NBC 5) reported.
Gates, who is the chairwoman of the council’s public safety committee, said initiating the changes before briefing the committee and before Garcia begins work was premature.
The committee will be briefed of the memo’s directive on Jan. 11, she said.
Mike Mata, president of the Dallas Police Association, said Sunday that the directive had been recommended in a study to increase efficiency and reduce the time it takes to respond to crimes.
By directing people to report some incidents online, officers have more time to handle higher-priority calls, he said.
He agreed with asking homeowners to handle offenses such as graffiti, minor thefts and criminal mischief with online reports.
“A lot of times that homeowner is just needing to make a report for insurance purposes,” he said. “It does create a very serious backlog when you have all of those nonpriority call sheets holding when there are much higher violent call sheets on top of the sheet when no officers are there to handle them.”
Although he disagreed with including other offenses on the list, such as interference with child custody or burglary of a vehicle, he noted that other major Texas cities were using online reporting for some low-priority calls.
“We just have always responded to them and have really been reluctant to leave that kind of mindset,” he said.
Mata said he believed the memo was sent by mistake — noting that it lacked a recipient or a signature. Such a change in policy will need to be explained to the public before it’s implemented, he said.
“I don’t believe the department meant for it to happen like that,” he said. “It was unfortunate. I think something like this will probably be pushed out again, but it definitely needs to be pushed out with a very transparent conversation and explanation to the public.”
Mata said the now-rescinded memo made it sound as though the department planned to ignore some crimes.
“And that’s not true at all — they’re still going to be investigated,” he said.