Activists behind traffic sting

Posted on 05 Feb 2009 at 7:10pm
By John Wright News Editor

Hate crimes advocacy group says DPD effort along Cedar Springs will slow speeders, help combat more serious offenses


A Dallas police officer prepares to make a traffic stop on Cedar Springs Road near Knight Street on Wednesday, Feb. 4. The officer was observed making four stops, for everything from speeding to no seatbelt, in a 20-minute span. JOHN WRIGHT/Dallas Voice

cop.jpg (cop.jpg)
Dallas police are cracking down on traffic violations along the Cedar Springs strip, prompting complaints from some citizens who’ve been caught up in the enforcement.

But local LGBT community activists said they’re the ones who requested the increased patrols, which they believe will make the area safer.

One citizen who sent an e-mail to a Dallas Voice staff member, but later asked not to be identified, suggested that police are "over there to hassle the gays." The woman said police on motorcycles were "swarming" the area and complained that she’d received a citation for talking on her cell phone in the school zone on Cedar Springs Road near Knight Street.

But the activists who requested the patrols and police officials dismissed the notion that the increased traffic enforcement is targeting the LGBT community. In addition to slowing down speeding motorists on Cedar Springs, the activists said increased visibility on the part of law enforcement will help combat more serious crimes, such as drugs, prostitution and robbery.

"If we want the police to be down there and keep us safe, we’ve got to let them do their job," said Michael Robinson, founder of United Community Against Gay Hate Crimes.

Robinson, who lives near the strip and launched UCAGHC after witnessing a brutal gay-bashing in July, invited people to e-mail him at ucaghc@yahoo.com if they have concerns about the traffic enforcement. "We can’t have our cake and eat it, too," he said. "I know people are going to complain and bitch about it. I’m willing to take the heat on that rather than not having them [police] down there."

Robinson and Mike Lo Vuolo, a UCAGHC member who’s also a board member for Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, said they identified speeding on the Cedar Springs strip as one of their top priorities during a recent meeting with city officials about crime in the area.

"Every night there’s almost somebody hit right in front of Buli [Café]," Lo Vuolo said, referring to the pedestrian crosswalk on Cedar Springs Road near Reagan Street. "I don’t care if you’re gay or straight. If you’re in the neighborhood, follow the law."

Lo Vuolo lives in East Dallas but said he visits the strip four or five times a week.

The meeting, initiated by Robinson and Lo Vuolo, was attended by Dallas City Councilwomen Pauline Medrano and Angela Hunt; a representative from the Oak Lawn Apartment Managers and Stakeholders Crime Watch Group; and DPD Deputy Chief Malik Aziz, who heads the department’s Northwest Division, which includes the strip.

Aziz said in response to the meeting, as many as three additional officers have been assigned to the Cedar Springs strip and adjoining streets to enforce traffic laws, mostly during the day.

"I don’t know how long it will continue," Aziz said this week.

"Usually when you stay in a spot for a few weeks, things dry up, and people come into compliance. We’d rather see compliance than issue citations. … We do traffic enforcement where it’s requested. That area is not getting any special attention because of any demographics. It’s just not true."

Aziz said despite statistics showing that crime was down as much as 20 percent near the strip last year, he’s battling a perception among some people that the area remains unsafe.

"They say crime is out of control in Oak Lawn," said Aziz, who called the statistics "tremendous."

"That’s the lowest crime has ever been over there."

But activists like Robinson and Lo Vuolo said they don’t think the statistics necessarily paint an accurate picture of what’s going on, since some victims don’t report crimes and police don’t always document them.

"The crime rate may be down, but people are still being robbed at gunpoint over there, people are still having their cars broken into over there," Lo Vuolo said.

"It may be down, but it’s still happening."

Dallas police records show that since Feb. 1, there have been three aggravated robberies and one carjacking reported within five blocks of the Cedar Springs strip.

In addition to traffic enforcement, Robinson and Lo Vuolo said they laid out other priorities during the meeting including improved lighting on side streets near the strip, new surface lights for the crosswalk, and increased enforcement related to drugs, prostitution and panhandling.

"That was something they could do right away," Robinson said of the traffic enforcement. "It may take a while, but this is a way to get it started."

Aziz said while the traffic enforcement may be temporary, he plans to assign beat officers to the strip on a permanent basis within the next year.

He also said those officers may eventually be equipped with three-wheel police vehicles, known as T3s, like those that are in use downtown.

Aziz is also looking into the possibility of placing a DPD substation on Cedar Springs, and he’s requested a surveillance camera for the strip to help deter crime and catch perpetrators in the act.

"If people don’t feel safe, we haven’t accomplished our final mission," Aziz said. "We’re going to continue to battle the crime, and make sure we engage with the community, and try to reach out to the community. There’s still a lot of work to do."

E-mail wright@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 6, 2009.

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