Top Cop Plots 'Hot Spots' To Stop Violent Crime In Dallas
Dallas Police Chief Eddie García unveiled a plan Wednesday aimed at reducing violent crime in the city through three key strategies: identifying high-crime areas, increasing police visibility and partnering with community organizations.
In the past three years, the City of Dallas has seen a recent uptick in violent crime — 2020 was the deadliest year in more than 15 years. Homicides are up 30% this year compared to the same time last year. Overall this year, police officials say crime is up 19%.
The plan was presented to the city council meeting in a 35-page slide show that outlined the city’s current violent crime rate and how Police Chief García, who has been on the job just a few months, plans to reduce it.
Criminologists and experts at UT-San Antonio helped create the plan, which identifies specific neighborhoods where crime is the highest: southeast, southwest and south central Dallas.
According to the report, violent crime is concentrated in a small number of areas or "hot spots" in the city and those small areas generate the majority of crime. The Dallas Police Department (DPD) said Dallas is made up of more than 100,000 hot spot grids.
DPD's first strategy is hot spot policing, which means focusing on placing more police officers in high-crime areas. The report states they will focus on 5.6% of the hot spot grids where there was a victim of violent crime in 2020. They hope to stop violent crime before it happens.
But many criminologists, like Alex Piquero, who previously worked at UT-Dallas, said that strategy hardly works.
“There is really very little that a police chief can do to solve a homicide problem," he said. "The reason why is that most homicides are aggravated assaults with guns or they’re drug deals gone bad or drug sales. It’s just not gonna happen."
District 13 Council Member Jennifer Staubach Gates posed concerns that targeting certain areas would come at the expense of less police officers at other parts of the city.
"These areas in the north that are outside of the beats that you referenced and if you're really targeting a few [areas], how are you going to keep the criminals to move around Dallas?" Gates asked the chief.
None of the three hot spots identified lie in her district.
At the council meeting, García said one way they hope to make hot spot policing effective is through a three-step approach: examining data, evaluating and adjusting locations every 90 days.
Michael R. Smith, chair of the department of criminal justice at UT-San Antonio, worked on the plan. He said the strategy creates opportunities for evaluation.
"The goal here is to very clearly measure what happened in the city prior to the implementation and as the strategies roll out to evaluate them in a holistic way over time," Smith said.
Mayor Eric Johnson praised García's transparency and completion of the plan.
"This plan is the single most important document coming out of City Hall this year — bar none," Mayor Johnson said in a statement. "Public safety is our top priority and if people don’t feel safe in our city, nothing else we do as a council or try to accomplish here at City Hall will matter. Period."
While García told city council that DPD is “committed to combating violent crime,” he emphasized that he'll need the community's input and calls it a “multifaceted approach.”
“Ultimately when we have an issue or problem location in these hot spots, the goal is to strengthen our community so that the problem no longer exists for them. And to empower them to, at that point, maintain their own neighborhoods,” García said.
Piquero, who was part of Mayor Eric Johnson’s Task Force on Safe Communities, noted chiefs are in a tough spot because police can’t fix joblessness, homelessness, low-achieving schools or other societal problems.
"There are pressure and causes of crime that the police can't do anything about," he said.
Piquero added that when a new chief joins a department and issues new practices, some officers have a hard time falling in line. He said that happens especially if the officers have seen previous leaders who've been forced out or left willingly for better situations.
García seems to understand that it will take more than a police plan to address the root causes of crime.
“We recognize that lowering poverty, improving education, reducing unemployment, eliminating food security and supporting our families are key in reducing violence in communities in the long term,” said García.
Some council members applauded the chief for using concrete data and help from experts to inform his plan.
"I think this is exactly what we want to see, Chief García. I think the public needs to see and hear is that you know whether your plan is working, or it's not working, where you need to massage it," said District 6 council member Omar Narvaez, who represents West Dallas.
Others like District 14's David Blewett worried about the cost and resources a plan like García's would require.
"A lot of us hear from our constituents about the headcount of DPD. So my question really is manpower," said Blewett.
Chief García told council that at the moment, DPD has enough staff to implement the plan. But he said eventually the department does need to grow.
"There's no question about it needs to grow responsibly," García said. "I've had conversations with the city manager's office. As the budget process is coming up, we're going to have those discussions as to exactly how we can grow the department responsibly."
City budget conversations within the council have already begun. Last year's budget cycle, activist groups called for a $200 million cut to police funding.
Got a tip? Alejandra Martinez is a Report For America corps member and writes about the impact of COVID-19 on underserved communities for KERA News. Email Alejandra at email@example.com. You can follow Alejandra on Twitter @alereports.
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