Fort Worth crime control district a proven success that ought to be renewed

Because of rising crime rates and strained municipal budgets in many Texas cities during the 1980s and early 1990s, the state Legislature in 1993 amended a law that allowed cities in counties over 1 million population to create crime control districts supported by sales taxes.

Fort Worth, which for two years running had the distinction of having the highest crime rate in the nation, wasted no time in proposing a Crime Control and Prevention District (CCPD) and its half-cent sales tax. The plan won voter approval in 1995.

Although the CCPD has been around for almost 20 years, and has been renewed by voters three times in five-year intervals, many residents don’t really know how the hundreds of millions of dollars raised for the district have been spent.

Fort Worth Police Chief Jeff Halstead, who has been spending a lot of time lately educating the public about the district in advance of the next renewal election May 10, said he is amazed at the number of people who don’t know about all the positive programs serving the community through the CCPD.

For example, most neighborhoods are part of the Code Blue program in which “Citizens on Patrol” units have well-trained and equipped residents watching out for their neighbors. That program is paid for by the crime district, as are the community police storefronts, neighborhood patrol officers and gang intervention and graffiti abatement programs.

The CCPD also provides funding for new officer recruitment, replacement of high-mileage vehicles, parks and community policing, traffic management at many special events and support for the DNA crime lab, specialized equipment and jail services.

Money for facilities improvement includes a new weapons range and a new heliport at Meacham Airport, Halstead said.

Then there are the after-school program and School Security Initiative (placing uniformed officers in every Fort Worth middle and high school) that Halstead said “are some of the strongest reasons juvenile crimes have seen dramatic decreases in the last 10 years.”

There is little doubt that the crime district and its array of initiatives have been a huge success, helping to drop Fort Worth’s major crime rate by 40 percent since 1995.

Since 2005, the special taxing district has raised more the $431 million that has been used to help make Fort Worth one of the safest large cities in the United States.

It is estimated that the tax will bring in more than $55.3 million this year.

The question now is, what will happen next year?

That will be up to voters. When the CCPD was first proposed, the Fort Worth City Council committed to seeking voter approval every five years in order to continue with the half-cent taxing authority. The proposition is on the May 10 ballot.

The city will continue hosting educational meetings on the issue through May 3, and residents are encouraged to attend to get fully informed about how their tax dollars are being used.

Then it’s up to those residents to vote.

The Star-Telegram Editorial Board recommends voting for continuing the Fort Worth Crime Control and Prevention District.