AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday defended offering Dallas help from state police as the nation’s ninth-largest city grapples with a dramatic spike in homicides and local officers balk at reassigned shifts to get violent crimes under control.
Dallas police this week reported a 75 percent jump in homicides over the same period last year. The rise in killings includes at least 17 so far this month, compared with five in March a year ago.
Exactly what role the Texas Department of Public Safety would play remains unclear. The agency has grown into a robust and militarized force of about 3,000 state troopers over the past decade as Republican leaders prioritized defense along the Texas-Mexico border. But it is unusual that DPS, whose troopers mostly patrol highways, would help a big city get a handle on homicides at the request of a governor.
DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said discussions are ongoing but in an email listed “patrol support in hot-spot locations for criminal activity” or investigative and aerial support as possible ways of assistance.
“We want to provide an intensified focus to make sure we corral this challenge immediately,” Abbott, a Republican, told reporters at the governor’s mansion.
Dallas Police Chief David Brown has welcomed the offer, and Abbott said the state’s role will be purely collaborative.
“I wanted to make sure we were not stepping into the turf of the Dallas police department, that we were very respectful of their jurisdiction,” Abbott said. “So I wanted to do this on a volunteer basis and assistive basis.”
Brown told a City Council committee Monday hundreds of Dallas officers would be reassigned to target high-crime neighborhoods and bulk up staffing on a 4 p.m. to midnight shift - a time when police commanders say a majority of violent crime occurs. Others would be placed on task forces concentrating on areas such as serving domestic violence warrants, Brown said, and more officers, including top commanders, would be assigned to foot patrols.
But the plan has provoked intense backlash among rank-and-file Dallas police officers, who complained the change would disrupt their personal lives. At least one police union has called for Brown to resign and others criticized the sweeping changes.
Brown has since backed away from some aspects of the overhaul, saying further review is needed.
Violent crime also is up in other major U.S. cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston, where killings rose from 241 in 2014 to 303 last year. Abbott said he would not hesitate to offer state police help to other Texas cities as needed.
Vinger, the DPS spokesman, said it was not unusual for DPS to provide help outside its usual mission. But examples he cited - big events such as Super Bowls and music festivals - were more about providing a heightened security presence than helping a city combat an ongoing problem.
Associated Press writer Dave Warren in Dallas contributed to this report.
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This story has been corrected to show there are about 3,000 state troopers, not more than 4,000.
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