The video spread like wildfire. In the middle of a seemingly peaceful McKinney suburb, a group of three officers descend on a pool party brimming with teenagers. At minute four of the seven-minute clip, one of the officers pulls to the ground a Black teen, 15-year-old Dajerria Becton, and tries to drag her into the grass. Then, when a small group of Becton’s friends surround the officer, asking him to stop, the officer draws his gun.
For the first time since the heroin problems that plagued Plano in the 1990s, a Collin County police department made national news. Predictably, this video from 2015 was quickly politicized. Fox News commentators like Sean Hannity said Becton was “no saint” and cast the unarmed teens as agitators, while advocates believed the incident was yet another example of police brutality. Even the infamous website Gawker weighed in, submitting a Public Information Act request for the officer’s emails. They were told by an attorney for the city of McKinney that the request would cost them over $79,000.
The officer involved quickly resigned, and Becton, who sued the city, received nearly $150,000 in a settlement just two years ago. Now, police departments in Collin County and across the nation are once again facing heightened public scrutiny. After the late May murder of Minneapolis man George Floyd, law enforcement entities are being forced to answer questions about policy and reform. Just as they did after the pool party incident in 2015, protests across North Texas are garnering thousands of outraged citizens who are troubled by law enforcement’s serial abuse of people of color.
But despite the nationwide outcry for change, conversations with police reps from Plano, McKinney, and the Collin County Sheriff’s Office indicate that police reform may not be coming to Collin County any time soon. If it does, it won’t start locally.
“In Collin County, the Commissioners Court has traditionally been fiscally conservative,” wrote Sheriff Jim Skinner in a statement to Local Profile, noting that county reform would have to start with the Court. “The Commissioners Court is aware that certain public-safety requirements are increasing as the county’s population grows. But I expect that the County Judge and Commissioners will continue to work hard to manage the taxpayers’ money.”
“I am not aware of any proposal to the County’s approach to the budget of the Sheriff’s Office as a direct result of George Floyd’s death.”
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After the Dajerria Becton incident, McKinney police spokeswoman Carla Marion says significant changes were implemented with the city police force. For example, the department created the Neighborhood Police Officer Unit, whereby officers serve in designated areas or neighborhoods. The program, like the neighborhood policing program championed by Plano’s Chief Drain, is ostensibly a way for police officers to cultivate relationships in their community. McKinney PD also prioritized “minority hiring,” which rose from 22 percent in 2016 to 42 percent in 2019. However, a key tenet of the national police reform conversation is fund diversion, meaning reducing the amount cities spend on law enforcement, and instead using those public funds to address homelessness, affordable housing, and mental health initiatives. For the past five years, police spending has consistently increased by millions of dollars in every city in Collin County.
Since the 2016-2017 fiscal year, McKinney’s police budget has increased by $10 million. It now sits at nearly $36 million, and the total public safety budget (which includes police and fire) makes up 46 percent of the city’s general fund spending.
In Plano, over a quarter of the 2019-2020 budget expenditures went to public safety. Furthermore, the police budget grew more than $11 million in the last five years, including a $4.8 million increase in the 2016-2017 fiscal year, when the department added 35 new positions.
New hires are a key reason for this budget growth across Collin County, and the budget expansion could also be attributed to growths in population and tax revenue. As Sheriff Skinner points out in his statement, Collin County Commissioners Court has adjusted the county budget as the cities have grown in size. Yet as spending has consistently increased for police, other departments’ budgets have fluctuated or gradually decreased. In Allen, for instance, over the past few years, spending on capital projects and general government has decreased, while public safety spending has sharply risen. And while the property crime rates in most Collin County cities have declined, violent crime has stayed mostly steady in McKinney, and fluctuated in Plano.
Plano police spokesperson David Tilley says the department has no in-house plans for reform. He cites the force’s background check policy and comprehensive de-escalation training as two reasons why the brass does not feel the need to implement any reform.
But the department isn’t necessarily against police reform. “Obviously as time changes the need for policy changes can occur,” says Tilley, “and we are always looking to make sure we are on top of things and willing to listen and review our policies.”
At the aforementioned protests still taking place in North Texas, some Collin County denizens have questioned police for the first time.
“We’re all seeing what Black people have been trying to tell us has been their experience,” said Laura Haines, a white Dallas suburbs resident interviewed at a protest by The Dallas Morning News. “And we’re aghast.”
That shock has moved people, young and old, to turn their attention to law enforcement. Congress is debating national reform bills proposed from both sides of the aisle, but these shocked citizens are questioning why a county with Collin County’s resources has to wait for legislation from D.C.
“Cities like Frisco are leaders in things like tech and health,” said one Plano protester at a recent event. “Why can’t they be leaders in law enforcement, too?”