Monday, December 5, 2022 Dec 5, 2022
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DEAD RINGERS

By Chris Tucker |

CRIME The owner of the South Dallas apartment buildings was in despair. Around ten o’clock each eve-ning, the six pay phones in his two buildings became hot lines for drug dealers. His tenants-low-income, law-abiding folks-were unable to make or receive calls.

So the owner turned to MIKE POWER for help. Power, vice president of PubliCall, a local pay telephone company, knew that one unpleasant and expensive option was to pull his company’s phones out of the buildings. But that would have also meant an end to service for the legitimate residents-and a loss of profits for PubliCall.

So Power managed to keep the cash flowing and strike a blow against crime by reprogramming his “smart” phones to thwart the dealers. He turned off the ringers to the phones and removed the phone numbers, making it virtually impossible to get an incoming call on the phones in question. Another crime-fighting option was exercised by the company last fall when the owner of another complex called. He planned to evict several drug users, he told Power, but wanted to curtail their activities while he gathered evidence. In this case, PubliCall left the ringers functioning, but added a recording advising caller and callee that the phone did not accept incoming calls.

Powers estimates that about 5 percent of his company’s 300-plus phones, mostly south of the Trinity, have been reprogrammed at a customer’s request.

JIM PATTILLO, a spokesman for Southwestern Bell, says that his company also alters phone service to deter criminal activity, but only in “very, very selected locations where it’s super-apparent that drug dealing is going on.”

Pattillo says that “far less than 1 percent” of Bell’s thousands of pay phones in the Dallas area offer some type of “restricted calling,” and he stresses that the changes are made only at the request of law enforcement agencies. “This does inconvenience legitimate customers, and we are very slow to do that,” Pattillo says. “But forget drugs for a moment. We don’t want anyone using our phones for any business purpose and avoiding the business rates.”