Second Annual “Conversation About Community Safety” a Success
Cedar Hill Mayor Stephen Mason hosted his Second Annual Conversation about Community Safety and resiliency in Cedar Hill Thursday night at the city’s government center. This was an opportunity for Cedar Hill residents to learn more about Cedar Hill’s approach to public safety and the community network of people and programs that make it the safest city in the Best Southwest. Crime prevention, emergency response, and mental health resiliency for the community and first responders were the topics to be covered.
The mayor was joined by panelists Police Chief Ely Reyes, Fire Chief Rodney Smith, Public Works Director Tom Johnson and CHISD Police Chief James Hawthorne. Lieutenant Melissa Frank, a crisis negotiator and coordinator for the DeSoto Care Team was also on the panel.
Mayor Mason asked her to explain what she does since it’s a new position and is about to expand beyond the city.
Lt. Frank explained that her position with the crisis assessment and resource engagement began in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, as an alternative approach to addressing behavioral problems. A grant from Dallas County has been awarded to expand and carry this approach throughout the southern Dallas region beginning in May.
Mayor Mason began the evening with introductions of the panel and his assessment that, “Cedar Hill is a safe city when our region is safe.”
The safest City in the Best Southwest
Police Chief Ely Reyes began the evening with comforting words. “We’ve consistently had the lowest crime rate for the cities in the southwest Dallas region and our over-all crime rate continues to go down.”
But he admitted that an increase in certain types of crime has increased. “In 2008 we arrested 20 people for carrying a firearm without a license and in 2021 we arrested 80 people for unlawfully carrying firearms.” Still, Cedar Hill remains the lowest in the region for violent crime rate.
Cedar Hill Fire Safety
Fire Department Chief Tom Johnson was happy to disclose that Cedar Hill’s Fire Department has a Class 1 ISO rating. “That measures how safe we are when it comes to fires and is testament to both our department’s readiness and our city’s water system.”
He explained that the ISO rating of One is very unique, because “Most cities around us are rated a “Two,” but we’re at the highest category. That has to do with our response time and how we maintain our water system and neighborhood services. It’s the mayor and our city leadership that makes sure we can deliver those services by making sure staffing is adequate and panning for water needs.”
On a scale of a possible 109 points for safety classification, Cedar Hill has 101.
Cedar Hill ISD School Safety
CHISD Police Chief James Hawthorne touted the variety of programs and social services in the school system that keeps the city’s students safe. “We have social and emotional programs, seven annual guidance sessions held in the classrooms that cover topics like suicide awareness and substance abuse.” In addition, Chief Hawthorne pointed out the schools have both large group sessions and smaller group sessions, then 1-on-1 counseling if there is a specific need to be addressed.
“Those sessions happen on a weekly basis, if needed. And every campus is assigned a mental health specialist.” The district also contracts with Community in Schools and has access to a psych ward.
“Our social and emotional learning resources are available through a vast panorama: SEL specialists, teachers and staff workshops; we have a multitude of resources available for our scholars.”
Chief Hawthorne also praised the Site Coordinators on campuses who are there to work with the counseling teams and identify students in need. “They’re right there on campus and connect with those students so there’s not a gap or a wait– they can respond to a need and do it efficiently.”
Trauma and First Responders
Mayor Mason asked about the mental health first responders, who see an experience significant trauma, and what is available to help them.
Chief Smith explained, “The City is in the First Responders program which has a lot of different facets. All are trained in the science of trauma, so we scan look for the signs and symptoms for early recognition of it in each other.”
This helps first responders quickly. “If we have an issue, it can be discussed on the peer level. The firefighters see it the most. But if it’s something larger than that, we have a network for them to go to, to get help.”
Chief Smith said, “We have a lot of people that have used the program but it’s very private. We know it’s active and working but we maintain confidentially. We’ve seen disciplinary problems go way down – issues cause by PTSD are being addressed.”
Mayor Mason was pleased with this. “What I’m hearing is we have a referral program that works. Good mental health is something that we need to support, and we need to be pro-active.”
Public Safety and Public Works
Tom Johnson is the Director of Public Works and Mayor Mason pointed out, “This may not be the first thing that comes to mind, but the times are really changing! Our significant weather issues have been occurring in the month of February in the past two years, and our citizens need to know what infrastructure is in place, whenever there is a storm, and what activities are happening.”
Director Johnson was quick to point out his city department is reliant on a team effort from all the city employees, and their regional communications as well. “First of all, it’s NOT just the public works department that is at work. When we do have a storm, we get communication from our regional center to all the employees. As a staff we get together and decided what centers need to be open, when to prepare the trucks to load sand and salt.”
While the Fire Department takes the lead and decides when to open the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) in the basement of the Public Works building, Director Johnson says, “Most of our departments work from that office downstairs while my group works from building close by.” The two “ice events” in two years have been a challenge.
“We have intersections we treat, which take priority, then bridges, and some streets. Two years ago, we sustained an operation for seven-and-a half days. Usually, it’s a two- or three-day event that we handle.”
While sanding local spots he points out that highways are not in the City’s domain. “We work with TXDOT we don not own 67 or FM 1382 we have to work with TXDOT.”
Mayor Mason asked if there were any preventive measures citizens can do regarding these icy storms. Director Johnson replied with a resounding: “YES! I know it sounds rhetorical but watch TV and the news: do what they say: stay home if at all possible. Our communication team does a great job of posting on our website – check that.”
Recruiting New Officers to Cedar Hill Police Department
On the topic of increasing the police force, Chief Reyes said, “I think our city council and city administration has done a good job to see that we are market-competitive with salary and benefits, so we can attractive and recruit good candidates for the police department.” He admitted “There’s been challenges for recruiting with different narratives about policing, but the best thing about Cedar Hill is how inclusive our community is.”
Chief Smith said his department uses “Community engagement all around: at the grocery store, high school programs, citizens academies, teen academies.” He believes that “Home grown is the best. Get the home-grown kids from Cedar Hill: they already know the community and have a sense of pride in the community.”
Chief Hawthorne pointed out that “Our trustees have done a good job to make our pay competitive and we have to be good ambassadors in our job.” He looks to hire personnel with experience. “If you’re looking for action, which is not what we’re looking for – we want people who want to build relationships and come to work with those skills, which know how to defuse situations, how to talk to people.”
Citizens Police Academy – new classes start September 8. Email Donald.firstname.lastname@example.org or ☎️ 972-291-5181 x2106
Women in Policing
Chief Reyes feels his department is doing well in hiring a diverse force and explains, “we adapted our Physical Fitness exam regarding the number of pushups required. We changed the test for female candidates, and it’s been adopted state-wide now for more inclusivity.”
New Regional Care Team to begin May 2nd
The Mayor asked Lieutenant Franks to elaborate on the new Regional Care Team coming to Cedar Hill. She explained about the Regional Care Team expanding beginning next month and why it’s a benefit.
“What’s unique about the Care Team is we are a purely preventative community resource. We don’t respond to 911. We try to prevent the call. We are trying to cut down on frequent utilization or overutilization of jails.” She pointed out that, “Mental health resources are at a shortage, especially in the southern area of Dallas County.”
Lt. Franks explained: “We are twofold: first, we guide Dallas to where they’re going to put their resources, and second: we gain more access to the resources that exist.”
She said, “A lot of times these resources hesitate to work in a smaller community. By expanding our population we’re hoping to attract attention to encourage them to come and help.”
Asked about a current backlog of cases, Lt. Franks said, “We serve all residents regardless of age, young children up to the elderly – we see historical data on addresses; first ‘frequent utilizers’ – those who go into hospitals or jail during crisis moments, those are definitely part of our target population. We will make contact with anyone whose been in immediate danger and take them to a hospital for an assessment – not a guarantee of treatment, every person that gets detained by the emergency care team gets followed up by our team. Any person making for our city can make a referral for us, or residents themselves.”
She also explained that “When you go into the hospital, the hospital has to serve THAT individual – they don’t get information from the police or EMS – and that individual may say they’re fine. But we have clients now that we haven’t met yet, we’ve been engaging with their families to help them with treatment options and to know what they can expect.”
Questions from the Audience Answered
As the meeting wrapped up, questions from the audience came regarding bike lanes, speeding traffic, and help with teens.
Director Johnson answered the first about local roads being built for new construction. “Most developments are required to do a traffic impact analysis. Each one has to address that, whether widening the roadway, or adding a right turn lane.”
Chief Reyes pointed out the best way to help the city stay safe is by “Getting to know your neighbors.” And if someone wants to get involved, there are a number of different ways.
“The Cedar Hill Police Department is very fortunate to have PACT – a Police and Community Team for non-emergency police services, which helps with educating the community. Our neighbor crime watch PACT team will gets sign out and help you set up and attend your meetings and bring the crime data of your neighborhood.”
He said this helps because, “It’s a more transparent in the way we communicate. We share a lot of info on our social media, like how is the crime rate in Cedar Hill? Historically people weren’t informed or aware, but now we make sure you know what’s going on in Social Media.”
A Citizen Police Academy training is scheduled for September and there are lots of programs that dove tail from that including Citizens on Patrol, and Volunteers in the police department. Chief Reyes concluded, “For those looking to be more involved, the academy is a great start.”
Summer Teen Programs
Both the Police and Fired Departments offer free summer youth programs in June.
About 100 teens from ages 12 to 16 years old attend the Summer Police program and twenty attend the Fire Department’s program. Each is open to the public.
And younger youth aged five to 11 years old can attend events at the library, which has great programs for all ages.
Trampoline Park and the movie theater are two areas teens tend to hang out in during their time out of school, and Chief Reyes says he works closely with the schools during the academic year to keep kids safe and out of trouble.
“We try not to take enforcement actions; we really refer it to the parents if we can. In most cases we can refer it to a parent. We do work closely with the school district – if trespassing on vacant property, the school district will come out and take the students back to school.” He reasoned, “Kids need things to do – we need to make sure we’re engaging them and that they understand the rules of Cedar Hill.”
Safe Roads, Bike Lanes
Will bikes lanes be coming to Cedar Hill?
Director Johnson said, “The ones I’m most familiar with are on Mansfield Road and we’re now designing our trails so they’re both bike and walking friendly.” He said his department recently finished a comprehensive master plan for the local parks.
Another concern was speeding in residential areas and the trouble with streets where cars park make it too narrow and dangerous to drive through.
Targeted enforcement using trailers with radar to slow drivers down have been effective. Chief Reyes said, “There is very comprehensive information we can get off these trailers. Citizens can request them for their streets. Right now, we have a waiting list for them – we move them around.”
Mayor Mason wrapped up the hour-long evening with final comments about how important it is for the Cedar Hill School District to continue to have a great relationship with both the police and fire departments, “Making all of our jobs easier as we work together and collaborate.”
He encouraged everyone in the meeting and watching on Facebook Live to follow the Facebook page of the city where events are advertised, and to get involved. “Come out and meet us!” Chief Reyes invited.