Dallas police officers have allegedly been told not to enforce laws against vagrants and homeless people.
The Dallas Express recently spoke with Mike Stapell, a former Highland Park police officer, who said that Dallas police have been told “hands off the homeless” by the city government.
“Back in September, I made a call to 9-1-1 because someone was slow-walking a shopping cart down the middle of my street, and Dallas police officers did show up. They talked to the guy for only about three seconds and drove off. I called them back to ask them what the deal was,” he explained. “They said, ‘Well we’re under this policy and it’s called ‘hands off the homeless.'”
Stapell claimed he went to the Northeast Substation and spoke to a neighborhood police officer who reportedly confirmed the “hands off the homeless” policy.
“He basically backed up what they were saying — that there is a policy that they were under from the elected officials that said ‘hands off the homeless,'” he told The Dallas Express. “There are other police officers that will tell you they’re under no such ‘hands off the homeless’ policy [and] they’ve never heard of that, but I got it from 16 different officers spread across three districts.”
“They’re upset about the situation that they can’t go out there and enforce the law like they’re supposed to — like they’ve been trained to do,” Stapell continued, “because we’ve got a different entity saying something different.”
Stapell has spoken on this issue publicly before both the Citizen Homelessness Commission and the Dallas City Council.
“I’m here to discuss with you today the message that has been sent to DPD street officers, the message they say came from the elected body,” he told council members during a city council meeting on November 9.
“The message of ‘hands off the homeless’ — I want you to know just how dangerous and reckless that is.”
According to a study published by the National Institute of Health, the rate of violent criminal offenses is 40 times higher in the homeless and vagrant population than in people with homes, and homeless people are “significantly more likely to have been charged with victimizing strangers.”
In the developing areas of Dallas, some businesses have resorted to hiring private security to protect themselves from potentially violent vagrants, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.
Stapell asserted to the council that officers are being called to scenes and witnessing crimes being committed, but they are unable to intervene.
“They’re putting themselves in danger. They’re putting you in danger, and most importantly, they’re putting me in danger,” he said. “This policy — if it didn’t come from you, you need to fix that. And if it did come from you, you need to fix that too.”
“This body has no idea how to keep this city safe. That should be left to the professionals,” he said. “Change the messaging to your street officers now to: ‘Do your job as you’ve been trained.'”
The Dallas Express reached out to the mayor and the city council for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.
Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia explicitly denied claims that the City has enacted a “hands off the homeless” policy.
When asked by The Dallas Express if city officials have directed his department not to enforce laws against the homeless, he said, “No, absolutely not.”
“There’s a nuance to it. … Homelessness in and by itself is not a crime. The crime that emanates from being in that environment is still a crime that we absolutely deal with,” he said. “We have never been instructed not to deal with the crime that is emanating from homeless encampments.”
“For us, a crime’s a crime and we don’t look at … someone [being] housed or homeless as a deterrent for us to deal with that crime,” Garcia said. “We will deal with that crime regardless of the living conditions.”
“We are getting help, obviously, from [the] Office of Homeless Solutions,” he added. “So, we want to help them out as well as they go into these environments because we know that oftentimes it can lead to violence in those areas, and so we’re working closely with them.”
In a recent interview with The Dallas Express, OHS Director Christine Crossley said she is comfortable with the current relationship between the DPD and the city’s homeless population, suggesting that social service specialists are often more equipped to properly handle situations with the homeless or vagrant than police officers.
“If your relationship with your unsheltered folk is only police, I don’t know how good of a relationship that is,” Crossley commented. “I think our police are very sensitive and have recognized that maybe they’re not the best point of contact. Maybe it should be those of us who are in the social service branch, and coming in with the marshals so that there is a security presence if needed.”
The OHS recently launched a new initiative called the Homeless Action Response Team (HART) program, which will deploy squads including marshals, code officers, and crisis intervention specialists to homeless or vagrant incidents “presenting an immediate safety concern.”
“The DPD has an incredible amount on their plate, and this can be shifted so somebody else,” Crossley said.
“I think we all agree that we would rather have Dallas police focusing on people who are in active danger and real crime,” she suggested, noting the importance of “recognizing what is most valuable in terms of time and where there are other resources so the DPD doesn’t necessarily have to be there.”
While the OHS has attempted to address the city’s homelessness problem through a variety of measures, polling shows that 76% of downtown residents still feel that “homelessness is a significant issue” and is comparable to cities like Austin, Houston, Chicago, and New York City.
In an attempt to curb panhandling, the City has asked residents to not give money to people on the street, suggesting that “Giving spare change without offering support could make matters worse,” and advising people to direct their donations to city services.
However, many vagrants continue to willingly remain homeless despite the services offered by both the City and non-profit organizations.