MAN OF ACTION: Jack Hammack has helped secure some desperately needed funds for the Dallas Police Department.
Jack Hammack doesn’t like publicity and doesn’t want it. I made him pose for this page to make a point.

For eight years, Dallas crime was out of control. Our soaring crime rate made ours the most dangerous city in America for its size. New York’s crime rate collapsed under Rudy Giuliani, and other major cities soon followed—Boston, then Chicago, then LA. But in Dallas, complacency on the City Council and incompetence in the city’s management left criminals free to wreak havoc, especially in our poorer neighborhoods.

But then three things changed. David Kunkle was appointed police chief and immediately announced that crime would be reduced. Mary Suhm was named city manager. And two businessmen decided they had had enough.

Jack Hammack first met with me 18 months ago. He said he was sickened by the situation in Dallas and intended to do something about it. He knew little about crime prevention, he said, but he intended to learn. He asked me to help.

To me, Hammack seemed like a nice guy. But my experience is that nothing less than an earthquake could shake our City Council, and even then councilmembers would point out that it wasn’t their fault. I rated his chances as zero.

But I misjudged my man. In less than two years, he and his cohort, Charlie Terrell, have met with 150 civic leaders, communicators, foundations, and politicians. Their fact-finding uncovered a beleaguered and undermanned police force and a business leaders living in a cocoon of safe neighborhoods, blissfully unaware of how crime has infested their city. As a case in point, neither the Dallas Citizens Council nor the Greater Dallas Chamber has ever listed crime as a priority.

Maybe that’s why Dallas has only 2.4 officers per 1,000 population (the lowest since 1990), while New York City has 4.8. Last year, the department gained only 44 new cops—the lowest percentage increase of the 10 major cities in Texas. There’s good logic at work here. Why would a new recruit go to work for a dysfunctional city government when he could get paid more in Plano?

Not only is the police department short on manpower, but Hammack and Terrell also discovered it was working with old, outworn equipment. The department needs new cars, helicopters, cameras for cars, back-seat protection, high-tech software and hardware, among other things. Within months, Hammack and Terrell secured a $5 million initial grant from the Caruth Foundation, with a $10 million backup commitment, to get what the police need to do their jobs. The Meadows Foundation then stepped forward with a grant to install crime-watch cameras downtown.

Last year, under a new police chief and new city manager, the crime rate fell. But the battle has barely begun. With the support of the people Hammack and Terrell have enlisted, this time the police have a fighting chance.

It started with one man getting fed up. And it proves to me once again that it takes only a few good people to make this city whatever we want it to be.

Photo by Elizabeth Lavin