Using data for better policing was at the forefront of the conversation when Denton Police Chief Frank Dixon spoke to the Denton Record-Chronicle Editorial Board on Tuesday afternoon.
With Denton’s growth in the last decade and continuing growth, Dixon said it’s difficult to keep up and maintain service, and conversation at the Denton Police Department surrounds how to best approach that growth using data.
With crime and departmental changes, Dixon said they focus on data to make those changes and respond to problems.
“Data is something you can’t argue,” he said. “It’s raw facts, and I think as policing continues to utilize data, we’re going to better serve the community.”
Gun violence has gone up in cities of different sizes across the nation. Denton’s location at the tip of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area and on Interstate 35 makes it a heavily traveled city that sees a variety of people passing through. Dixon said targeted data has helped the department take many firearms off the streets in the past year.
However, data related to gun violence may not translate easily into deterrence because most of the shootings that have happened in the past 18 months in Denton were personal, not random.
“If you’re looking at a focused deterrence, it’s a little bit tougher because you don’t know who’s having problems with who,” Dixon said. “So it’s really trying to look at that and focus better on areas of crime, and not just throwing out police officers in random sections of the city.”
As Denton’s population has grown, so have calls for service, but Dixon said the number of Police Department staff hasn’t grown appropriately in the past decade to get them to where they need to be today.
To address this, they’ve added about five officers every year recently to get closer to the staffing levels they need to respond to the growing number of calls.
He said the upcoming Denton police substation will be a game-changer in police response. The police headquarters is currently near downtown, very far from areas like Robson Ranch especially during rush hour.
“What the south substation is going to do is deploy officers that work the south side of the city out of there so when they go in service, they’re already in the neighborhood … and they can respond a lot faster,” Dixon said.
The substation is now under construction on Vintage Road in southwest Denton, near Denton Fire Station 7 and a future police firing range.
Another recent addition to the Denton Police Department is its mental health unit.
After officially launching in May, the newly created Crisis Intervention Response Team — the department’s mental health unit — responded to about 690 mental health-related calls from July through August. That number is more than Dixon was expecting.
“The good thing is, is our community and our society by large is recognizing mental illness now and it’s more acceptable for people to ask for help,” he said.
He said in the long term, it’ll be good to see growing awareness about mental health in the community because people are reaching out to help. In the short term, it goes back to proper staffing because the team is very busy.
“If you can try to imagine eight people trying to keep up with the caseload touching 600-something cases in that short period of time, they’re doing a lot of really good work,” he said.
The civilian head of the team was hired on last November, with more civilian clinicians and police officers coming onto the team by the end of December. They trained together for responding to mental health crises up until the team first started responding to calls in May.
Some adjustments will come as well, as with any team, Dixon said.
“We have to right-size our expectations for the Police Department [before we can expand that team],” Dixon said. “I know that just financially, I can’t go to taxpayers and say we’re going to need 20 more police officers. ... That comes with a very large price tag.”
As they grow the department, he said they’re trying to do so efficiently, rather than just putting a lot more officers on duty at once.
“I never want to put our community in the position of paying more just for the sake of doing it,” Dixon said. “I know that sounds kind of curt, but we’re really trying to make sure we grow it appropriately.”