Dallas Police Reform, Equity Work Showing Results

One of the bright spots for police reform and racial equity over the past several years is Dallas, Texas. Much of this reform and attention to racial equity followed the police shooting of James Harper, an unarmed black man, in July 2012.

Law Enforcement

The City of Dallas’ work to reform its police department followed many years of police violence, during which the city had a higher per-capita rate of police-involved shootings than Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles, as reported by an article in the Atlantic. Following the Harper shooting and several days of protest, former police chief David Brown instituted several reforms, including

  • Notification of the FBI Civil Rights Office at the time of all officer involved shootings
  • Development of a foot pursuit policy
  • Implementation of a response to resistance report that documents officers’ use of force to overcome resistant suspects
  • Enhanced review of digital video recordings by a specialized unit
  • Improved consensual search policy to require written or video documentation that a citizen voluntarily consented to a search
  • Creating a community engagement team with the Community Affairs Unit to respond to community concerns and manage programs that create community trust and engagement
  • Mandating that all officers receive Taser training and maintain their certification
  • Conducting reviews of departments under investigation or consent decree by the Justice Department to understand past failures and determine best practices in the management of officer involved shooting incidents

Partly as a result of these reforms police shootings in Dallas have declined from 23/year in 2012 to an average of seven/year between 2017-19 and inappropriate force complaints dropped from 127 in 2010 to 21 in 2016. In a 2016 report by Campaign Zero, Dallas is listed in the bottom third out of the 100 largest U.S. cities for police shootings.

Most recently, in response to the racial and social justice reforms demanded by the general public in response to police brutality, the Dallas City Manager announced the R.E.A.L. Change program. This program identifies immediate, mid-term and long-term strategies aligned with the six pillars of 21st Century Policing to build trust between the police department and the public. Here are six immediate action steps below, and the full article can be found here.

  • The Roll Call Training Bulletin on June 3 restated the department’s ban on chokeholds, a policy that has been in place since 2004.
  • DPD Chief Renee Hall, who took over the department in 2017, issued a general order on June 4 implementing a new “duty to intervene” policy. It compels DPD members “to either stop, or attempt to stop, another employee when force is being inappropriately applied or is no longer required.”
  • By June 12, Chief Hall will also implement a “warning before shooting” policy, meaning officers must warn a suspect or detainee before firing a weapon at the person.
  • By June 30, DPD will:
    • Begin reporting officer contact data on all traffic stops and citations on a monthly basis
    • Create and implement a body and dash cam policy to release critical incident videos
  • By August 28, DPD and the City Manager’s staff will review all use-of-force policies and offer revisions as needed.


In 2017, Dallas was selected as one of 14 “priority places” by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for its Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) program to plan and bring about sustainable change & address historic and contemporary effects of racism. The Dallas TRHT program brings together 16 “cohort” nonprofit organizations for collaborative goal-setting, capacity-building and resource sharing.

To complement the work of the Kellogg Foundation, the city created an Office of Equity, which initiated the Dallas Equity Indicators project as a collaboration among the City of Dallas, the City University of New York’s Institute for State and Local Governance (CUNY ISLG), and the Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP). The project measures 60 indicators under five themes and is intended to be used as a comprehensive tool to help Dallas understand and measure progress toward equity. The themes include economic opportunity, education, neighborhoods and infrastructure, justice and government and public health.

The Indicators project has influenced city operations, increased accountability and advanced efforts to create a more equitable city. To accomplish the goals of the project, the city incorporated intentional listening sessions and conducted an examination of institutional racism in governmental policies and in doing so has demonstrated a commitment to timely change. The city released a year over year equity report in 2019 that showed growth in equity but also revealed that the city had a long road ahead of it to fully combat their systemic issues of inequality.

Another reform to improve equity is a directive last year to the City’s Office of Budget to review the City’s $3B budget using an equity lens. Each department followed the budgeting for equity steps when requesting budget enhancements and reductions to determine whether they would have an uneven or disparate impact on some residents. Additionally, the City Manager selected eight departments to pilot using the tool to assess their entire budgets: Code Compliance, Dallas Animal Services, Dallas Public Library, the Office of Community Care, the Office of Arts and Culture, the Office of Environmental Quality and Sustainability, the Office of Homeless Solutions, and Public Works. These departments reviewed available historical data to determine whether the city has achieved the desired outcome of their respective services for all residents. This review allowed departments to think strategically about their operations and service delivery models and begin making changes where needed using existing resources.

Examples of the results appear below, and you can find more information in the FY 2019-20 budget:

  • Empowering neighborhoods through the Community Clean! initiative
  • Preserving civil rights history at the Juanita Craft Civil Rights House
  • Increasing equity in library services by eliminating overdue fines and making mobile hot spots available for checkout at high-opportunity branches (see other fine and fee reforms)
  • Equipping entrepreneurs and small businesses, particularly minority- and women-owned businesses, to compete for business in the city
  • Identifying data-driven interventions to improve air quality and public health
  • Developing an equitable, effective, and sustainable action plan to fight climate change
  • Assessing Public Works equipment staging and its impact on service request resolution


The city’s Equity Office has also worked to improve equity with regard to the COVID-19 outbreak. The city has created a regional dashboard showing the latest data, a “symptom tracker” database to forecast infection hotspots and a bilingual information hotline. In addition, the city has allocated $20.1 million for mortgage and rental assistance, $34.1 million for homeless assistance and $9.5 million for small business assistance. Much of the city’s outreach has focused on the south side of the city, which has higher minority populations, including a partnership with Parkland Hospital to increase testing in the area.

The city is also working to help homeless and low-income residents get the services they need. For example, the city has partnered with the Salvation Army’s Carr P. Collins Social Service Center, to help those experiencing homelessness quarantine safely. Anyone who presents symptoms of COVID-19 is instantly isolated, tested across the street at Parkland, and quarantined in a hotel for 14 days. Parkland has set up a special hotline just for homeless service providers. To fill the gap of some shelter’s limiting numbers of beds, the city’s Office of Homeless Solutions has been running an emergency shelter at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center,  housing more than 300 guests a night. Nearby hotels are providing additional beds.

While the Dallas has recently experienced an uptick in COVID-19 cases along with most of the state, the racial distribution of infections and deaths is slightly better than most cities, particularly for African-Americans. As of June 18, Dallas County’s infection breakdown by race was 9% Black, 60% Latino and 8% White (+20% unknown), compared to a population that is 23.5% Black, 40.5% Latino and 28.6% White. The city continues to focus on hotspot areas to bring down overall rates and reduce disparities, including projects to increase testing and deliver groceries to people with COVID-19 symptoms.

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