Every month for the last five years, Councilman Adam Medrano has held community safety forums, inviting residents of his district to ask questions of the Dallas police. Medrano’s district includes Deep Ellum and a slice of downtown. The events are often unremarkable. Tuesday night was different.
The June edition was a standing-room-only, hour-plus discussion about the city’s escalating crime problem and how that relates to Deep Ellum’s soaring popularity. They discussed police efforts to make the neighborhood safer, particularly during the summer months. Among those efforts: you will now see paddy wagons parked along the district’s main thoroughfares.
Although the talk took place at Cafe Izmir, on Ervay Street, downtown received comparatively little attention. The question-asking public drove that. Residents are stirred up following the shooting death of 28-year-old Adan Lozano early Saturday morning in a Deep Ellum parking lot. “When something happens, it’s a room full of people,” Medrano said.
But police attempted to mark a distinction between the challenges that face Deep Ellum and the increase in violent crime across the city over the last two months. Deep Ellum’s crimes are mainly of opportunity, Deputy Police Chief Thomas Castro said, attributing robberies and assaults to the massive crowds. That’s why officers encourage patrons to walk in groups. Police have identified eight areas driving Dallas’ violent crime spur; Castro pointed out that none of them touch Deep Ellum or downtown.
So, what’s the real issue in Deep Ellum? If you ask the police, it is the sheer mass of people in such a contained space, Uptown’s old party crowd dumping itself on Elm and Main streets each Friday and Saturday night. You can’t arrest your way out of it, argued Phillip Honoré, the longtime police officer and investigator who the Deep Ellum Foundation hired a year ago to head public safety. He likened it to his experience in New Orleans, where 100 cops or more patrol Bourbon Street and criminal activity persists. There’s no level of patrol at which the problems evaporate, he said.
That may be true, but Deep Ellum’s business and residential communities are loathe to accept a collective shrug. The audience pressed the police when they sensed the department was throwing its hands up in defeat.
Take the case of an alleged kidnapping near the 7-Eleven, a story that apparently spread through Deep Ellum’s working crowd via social media. On Tuesday, someone asked for an update. She was told police now believe that the girl was not kidnapped and that she might not have been a victim at all. But that was news to the room, and J. Damany Daniel, who works at the Bomb Factory, said it shows the lack of communication, which allows misinformation to spread. “The only side of the story we in Deep Ellum heard was that the girl got kidnapped,” he said.
Daniel did not receive much encouragement that communication will improve on these matters in the future. At times on Tuesday communication among the people inside the room felt strained. Business owners bit back about various metrics of measuring crime and, in one instance, chided an officer’s summary of Deep Ellum’s issues for not including what he viewed as a significant contributor—the easy access to the area via DART. Henderson and Uptown don’t have that, said Gavin Mulloy, a longtime Deep Ellum resident and former Bomb Factory employee.
But there were plenty of moments where you did see progress. A resident complained about the continued shenanigans of one neighborhood drug addict and saw an officer make a note. He was told they’d make it a point to check on the area.
Curiosity pervaded, too, about how police could better use public intoxication and open container laws to contain bad actors. The police answered that taking a couple of cops off street patrol to deal with such small matters makes little sense. A longer answer is that targeting things like public intoxication will make more sense now that there’s a paddy wagon at the ready, where police can hold detainees for a time without having to immediately transport them off site, one by one. Police put the wagon in play recently and will have it in Deep Ellum on the weekends and as needed going forward.
The Foundation is also extending its neighborhood patrol program to stretch to 6 a.m. (Lozano’s murder occurred around 3 a.m.) These moves will look to help address a sort of no-man’s land, a period when officer patrol dies down and most people go home but criminals may not.
Deep Ellum isn’t Bourbon Street. It’s not Austin’s Sixth Street. It’s its own animal, and everyone seems to have an idea about how to best contain it. Tuesday represented just one more community meeting to exchange those ideas. It won’t be the last.