In Depth: Central Texans weigh in as bills to prevent cities from defunding police head to Gov. Abbott's desk

Posted at 8:12 PM, May 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-28 12:31:12-04

WACO, TX — Two bills that could stop larger Texas cities from defunding their police departments are headed to Governor Abbott's desk.

House Bill 1900 deals with municipalities over 250,000 that try to defund or reduce the budget to their police departments.

Senate Bill 23 deals with counties in the same situation for populations of a million people.

SB23 would then have cities or counties hold an election before reducing the police fund, or be fined.

"If a determination is made that they are non-conforming city or county, then they tend to lose a portion of their sales tax revenue that comes from the comptroller's office that comes in the amount that they're violating their statute," says Waco Attorney Jon Ker.

The ballot proposition will have to detail and explain each proposed reduction.

It will have to disclose the amount of the reduction and where the funding will be reallocated to.

"The question is, is the public being served as far as safety concerns, and is that a more significant purpose than something else? Are we getting the protection for our citizens if we defund the police?" says Ker.

The ballot will also have to state the impact on the tax rate, and how long the reduction or reallocation will be in effect.

Actions to defund police were sparked after last year's social unrest and calls for racial justice.

Because those bills would affect larger cities in Texas, areas like McLennan or Bell County won't be affected, but it has caused the counties to assess city-level protocols.

"In those moments it is prudent and right for us to examine our processes and protocols and make sure we're best in class, that we're a model city," says Waco Mayor Dillon Meek.

A conversation stemming from nationwide calls for racial justice like the officer-involved shooting death in the Temple of Michael Dean.

But his brother Jeremy Dean says defunding police isn't the answer.

"I'm not going to say defund the police, but I am going to say they need to create a program where police have to go under a deep evaluation before they start patrolling the streets," says Jeremy Dean.

Dean says former officer Carmen Decruz, who shot and killed his brother nearly two years ago has yet to face a judge for his actions and says the change he wants is for departments to hold their officers accountable.

"They're talking about pushing it off until next year, and he needs to be sentenced and he needs to be trialed correctly according to the law. Because if I was to kill a cop I would be in prison by now," says Jeremy Dean.

Temple mayor Tim Davis says the delay is due to the pandemic.

Right now Temple has no plans to defund the police department but has created a diversity equity and inclusion board, as well citizen's police advisory commission to create better communication between the citizens and the police department.

"Could there be better training? Of course, and we always work on that. I don't see at any time the temple police department lowering their standards," says Davis.

Davis says the Temple Police department currently has 19 openings, due to expanding of staff to accommodate for the growing population, recent retirements, as well as a shortage of applicants after so much recent spotlight on law enforcement.

"I think the last academy the city of Temple had we had right at 100 people apply, 60 of those showed up. After some aptitude testing and some physical testing, there were about a dozen or so officers that even made it into the academy, half a dozen or 6 of those actually made it onto the street so to speak. That whole process from application to uniformed officer on the street takes about 12 months," says Davis.

Mayor Meek also doesn't plan to defund its police department, as the city and Waco PD have made big investments in community policing.

"I love the fact that we have a police chief and an entire police department where there are young girls and young boys who can see themselves in the officers who are selflessly and sacrificially serving our city," says Meek.

In March the city hired Chief Victorian, the first black and first woman police chief for Waco.

Aside from her accolades, it's a way for the department to make sure those in charge are a representation of the community.

The chief also has a mission to diversify its force, something staff feels will help build trust and reduce crime in the community.

"You know people like to see someone that looks like them. And if you see somebody that looks like you you're more comfortable with that person so seeing a diverse police department helps the department in doing the job better and helps the community trust the police department a lot more," says Sgt. Peter Mottley with the Waco Police Department.

Right now in the Waco Police Department, the total number of active, sworn officers is 261 and minority numbers are low:

  • White Male: 65% (170)
  • Hispanic Male: 11% (29)
  • Black Male: 9% (22)
  • White Female: 9% (24)
  • Hispanic Female: 4% (10)
  • Black Female: 2% (5)
  • Asian Male: <1% (1)

Waco PD will be accepting applications June 1st through August 31st for Police Recruit and Police Officer Positions.

The Civil Service Entrance Exam will be held on Saturday, September 18th at 08:00 am at the McLennan Community College Emergency Services Education Center.

Waco PD has taken strides to get more involved in the community.

One example was when the new police chief and officers visited 8-year-old RJ Mcclure for her birthday.

Her mom, Natalie Mcclure says thanks to community policing, her daughter has always had positive experiences with Waco Police, and worries if the department is defunded it may take away from special experiences like her daughter's birthday visit.

"I think they're very open to conversation, and this willingness to change and not for themselves, not to make themselves look better but to truly better our community," says Mcclure.

Mcclure says her daughter has been so inspired by local police that she wants to be the chief of police when she grows up.

During her daughter's birthday, Waco PD made her a junior officer.

For organizations like the Cen-Tex African-American Chamber of Commerce, staff says they've had great partnerships with Waco city leaders and encourages everyone to get involved.

"The fight for equality and the fight for justice is never-ending. But maybe that battle gets easier as we become more comfortable in addressing it daily. Being more civically engaged and working with law enforcement." says Rachel E. Pate, the Vice President of Economic Development for the Cen-Tex African-American Chamber of Commerce.

Pate with the chamber believes more focus needs to be placed on issues such as mental health.

As well as reducing gun violence and domestic violence in the area.

"I believe if we give our leadership time and space but partnership and collaboration that we can all do that together," says Pate.

The chamber also says they've had a sit-down interview with the new Waco police chief to discuss how officers are interacting with people in the city but also among each other within the department.

"I think these are important and I think in any organization when you have a change in leadership and you regroup, you definitely want to address your organizational needs and how you address the community. So I commend her on that as well other members of the department for programs like Blue Guardian where they are mentoring kids and playing kickball with police officers and doing things outdoors."

The chamber is also working with the department to speak and educate local families about gun safety.

Last year Temple and Waco joined in on the racial justice movement by hosting Black Lives Matter rallies.

In Waco, organizers say nearly 1,000 people showed up among the two different demonstrations.

They say the numbers speak for themselves on how much people care about racial equality, and the group is still hard at work trying to make a difference.

"We've been really just kind of working to make sure the community understands what the police is trying to do. And really give out as much information as we can on voting and how people can help push change themselves," says Deviar Woodson, one of the organizers of the Waco BLM rallies.

Right now Woodson says there's no plan for another BLM rally but is planning events to celebrate black culture and history for Juneteenth.