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Violent crime plagues large apartment complexes in Dallas — but researchers say City Hall can help

LM Otero
/
Associated Press
Dallas' Crime Reduction Plan is two years old. Researchers say it's working, but could reduce crime more if Dallas officials addressed housing inequities and increased coordination between departments at City Hall.

Much of the violent crime in Dallas happens near older apartment complexes. City departments need to talk to each other. And the jail system needs help.

Those are among the findings in a report presented during Monday's Public Safety Committee by researchers who spent years helping to create, monitor and implement the City of Dallas’ crime reduction plan.

Their recommendations include addressing long standing housing inequities, inefficiency at City Hall and a look at what researchers call the “revolving door” of the jail system.

The report was compiled by researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio, who have also been advising the city on its crime prevention plan. The plan has been a talking point for Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, who ran his campaign that prioritized public safety — and low tax rates.

The report also included several recommendations for city officials, to lower the crime rate more.

“Because most violent crime in Dallas occurs in and around older apartment complex, the City would benefit from a comprehensive, city-wide strategy to address the proximate conditions that give rise to violence in these locations,” the report said.

Researchers say this strategy should consider zoning, regulatory enforcement, recreation and other investments to “help reduce crime at its legacy multi-family housing complexes.”

Michael Smith leads the team working on the analysis of the crime reduction plan. He says the design of older complexes adds to the level of crime in the area.

“Most of your violent crime in Dallas is associated with older, large apartment complexes,” Smith said. “In a way I wish we could roll the clock back fifty years and think about how we might imagine an apartment being constructed.”

Smith says the city should consider taking another look at ordinances that would help curb some of the crime around these sites. The researchers say they have come across numerous examples of apartment complexes that are “way out of code compliance” in Dallas — and may need more attention from the city’s compliance department.

One of the city’s plans to lower crime rates is called “Place Network Investigations” (PNI). Officials say that the PNI strategy tries to get at the root causes of crime. Things like lack of housing, access to education and basic resources.

But the report says the data doesn’t necessarily support the strategy’s efficiency.

“Although the PNI strategy has shown some success at reducing violent crime in some of Dallas’ most violence-prone places, implementation has been hampered by a lack of coordination across city department,” the report said.

The PNI strategy is complex and requires coordination across multiple city departments. But what happens when departments are sequestered away from one another?

“This is…not new in terms of government agencies being siloed and not always working seamlessly together,” Smith said. “That integration has not been as seamless as I think anyone would have liked.”

While the city has seen a reduction in violent crime, there have been some increases. According to the briefing, overall street crime incidents have dropped by 15% — but murders and aggravated assaults have increased around 10%.

“Murders and aggravated assaults also are down year to year since the crime plan began,” Smith said. “We compare what crime has done since the crime plan started.”

The researchers use a spike in crime — around the start of the COVID-19 pandemic – as their watermark for analysis.

Got a tip? Email Nathan Collins at ncollins@kera.org. You can follow Nathan on Twitter @nathannotforyou.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Nathan Collins is the Dallas Accountability Reporter for KERA. Collins joined the station after receiving his master’s degree in Investigative Journalism from Arizona State University. Prior to becoming a journalist, he was a professional musician.