Six days ago, the Dallas Police Department published a blog and a Facebook post with this message: “12 consecutive days without a murder in Dallas.” The following days seemingly treated this as a challenge.
There was a man found dead in his apartment on Lucas Drive, near Oak Lawn, which police are investigating as a homicide. A 26-year-old was gunned down off Scyene Road in Pleasant Grove, apparently the outcome of a shootout. There was the killing of a couple in their Lakewood home. The alleged shooter had come back for his ex. A 17-year-old honked his horn at another driver in Pleasant Grove; the driver answered by shooting into the kid’s truck, killing him. Early Saturday morning, a 28-year-old man was found shot and killed in a Deep Ellum parking lot. Early Sunday morning, another man was shot and killed outside the La Zona Rosa strip club off Stemmons. And last night, a 54-year-old man was found shot and killed in the 1100 block of East Hobson, about five blocks south of Illinois Ave. in southern Dallas.
We’re now above 100 murders on the year; my tally after the weekend puts us at 105. Through May, there had been 48 arrests on 97 murders. Police department higher-ups have been predicting this sort of a spike in crime for years. We’re down 700 officers compared to staffing levels in 2011, despite having added another 100,000 residents in that time. There is a brain drain in the department. Officers are leaving for safer suburban jobs that for years paid beginners more. We’re out from under the pension collapse, but that mess left a stain on the department too.
In 2017, before Chief U. Reneé Hall began, I sat down with Mike Mata and Fred Frazier of the Dallas Police Association. Mata had an interesting point.
“This is one thing that the public doesn’t understand. Before, we were just losing the five to seven year officer. That was bad enough, okay? Or the officer that just came out of the academy and is getting hired to go somewhere else. Now, with this pension problem, now you’re losing your 20-plus. Your 20-plus are your most seasoned veteran investigators. Those are the ones that you want investigating the homicides. When your father, your mother, your sister, or brother are killed, you don’t want a seven-year cop. You want the 25-year cop, who’s got skins on the wall and knows how to do it.”
Here was Frazier, speaking on staffing levels in 2017:
“Those are alarming numbers because every time we’ve done this in the history of the department, the city’s crime has followed within a huge increase, so we’ve been shouting from the rooftops this is coming.”
The department has not been sitting on its hands. The City Council bumped starting pay for officers up to $60,000. The department has re-shifted its structure, jumping total homicide detectives from 14 to 22. Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson has been speaking with the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety to get assistance from state police. It’s not just murders either. There were about 400 more aggravated assaults reported through May compared with the same period in 2018, about a 27 percent jump. (There were 1,809 from Jan. 1 to May 31 of 2019 compared to 1,424 last year.) There have been about 100 more sexual assaults this year than last, 183 to 88. Robberies follow the same trend, 1,804 this year, 1,493 last.
According to a public safety briefing earlier this month, 75 percent of all the violent crime in the city is located between four patrol divisions: the Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, and South Central. That seems to chart when you look at this interactive map, created by data researcher Robert Mundinger.
Hall said the department started a so-called Summer Crime Initiative, pulling in units from 10 different divisions, including SWAT, fugitive units, and neighborhood police officers. They arrested 53 of the 100 most violent criminals who had outstanding warrants, which included a suspect in two murders and another two suspects wanted for capital murder and serial aggravated robberies. They’ve identified patrol locations that attract large crowds, which brings with it the possibility of violence and other criminal activity. (Jim’s Car Wash, which a judge ordered to shutter after a fatal shooting; Bachman Lake, and Rochester Park.)
The conversation has continued. On Saturday, state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) held a town hall at the UNT Systems building downtown. Chief Hall and Dallas County Sheriff Marion Brown were there too. Hall discussed the department’s strategy to the public, and also pleaded for help from the community. Of the 97 murders through May, 20 were associated with family violence, according to department numbers. There have been at least two this month to add to that. That’s about a fifth of the total, and that’s also where Hall is seeking to include faith leaders and other point persons in the community to help.
She’s had to navigate the choppy waters of communication around this issue. The department was criticized by some on the Council for being tone-deaf in reporting context—one of the slides from the briefing compared stats from Grand Prairie, Frisco, Plano, and Lewisville. Combined, those cities have seen just six murders. She also got in trouble for saying that felons serve their terms and then are released into the community without the resources necessary to live their lives. “In those instances, those individuals are forced to commit violent acts.” She walked those statements back. However unfortunate her wording was, the message does have some heft. As The Dallas Morning News reported, Rev. Michael Waters of Joy Tabernacle African Methodist Episcopal Church noted Saturday that the city must address its poverty problem. “If you want to find the violent crime, find the areas with poverty,” he said. “There are some problems we are not going to be able to arrest our way out of.”
This is a complex issue, compounded by a number of mounting challenges. And it doesn’t seem like this is going to slow any time soon.
A version of this was first published in our D Brief newsletter, which gets sent out each Sunday. Not a subscriber? You can fix that.