Hunt calls for more police presence in entertainment district to address rising violent offenses
Everyone knows the area in and around Dallas’ gay entertainment district can be a dangerous place — especially at night.
But a new crime analysis tool being used by the Dallas Police Department — called Target Area Action Grids, or TAAGs — appears to be shedding new light on just how bad the problem is.
The Cedar Springs Wycliff Target Area Action Grid, a roughly 1-square mile sector that encompasses the strip — recorded the third-highest number of violent offenses of any of the city’s worst crime hotspots in the first eight months of this year, according to a report compiled by DPD’s Crime Analysis Unit.
From Jan. 1 through Aug. 30, there were 134 violent crimes — which includes murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults — in the Cedar Springs Wycliff TAAG, the report shows. This put the Cedar Springs Wycliff TAAG at No. 3 on a list of 26 violent crime hotspots citywide, behind only the Northwest Highway/Harry Hines TAAG and the Five Points TAAG, which recorded 180 and 151 offenses, respectively.
Moreover, while violent crime was down 23 percent overall across the city’s 26 TAAGs from 2008 to 2009, according to the report, the number of offenses in the Cedar Springs Wycliff TAAG had increased 21 percent.
City Councilwoman Angela Hunt, whose district includes portions of the Cedar Springs Wycliff TAAG, called the numbers "frightening."
"It’s very disheartening," Hunt said. "I think it’s very clear that we’re going to have to increase police presence along Cedar Springs."
Councilwoman Pauline Medrano, whose district includes the remainder of the Cedar Springs Wycliff TAAG, stressed the importance of taking basic precautions, such as always being aware of your surroundings, parking in well-lit areas even if you have to pay, and traveling in groups.
"I think we’ve got to focus on educating our visitors," Medrano said. "Sometimes we get so comfortable in what we do that we’re not thinking twice about safety."
Hunt noted that despite the city’s current budget shortfall, council members intend to move forward with a plan to add roughly 200 police officers this year. But she added that it will ultimately be up to police officials to determine where those new officers are assigned.
Police Chief David Kunkle confirmed this week that the TAAG statistics have been and will continue to be a major factor in how the department allocates resources.
"The goal is to drive all the numbers down in all those 26 areas," he said.
Kunkle also questioned how much of the violent crime in the Cedar Springs Wycliff TAAG is tied directly to the gay entertainment district, and how much of it is related to aging, high-density apartment complexes in the surrounding neighborhood.
While it includes the gay entertainment strip, the Cedar Springs Wycliff TAAG also stretches in some places east of Lemmon Avenue, west of Maple Avenue, south of Oak Lawn Avenue and north of Kings Road.
"I think most of these incidents are not occurring on Cedar Springs and [in] the entertainment district itself," Kunkle said. "I think Cedar Springs, based on my experience, is relatively safe and relatively problem-free, for an entertainment district. The greatest risk is getting on the side streets — dark, late at night, and if you’ve been drinking."
Deputy Police Chief Malik Aziz, who’s over the department’s Northwest Division, which includes most of Oak Lawn, cautioned this week that TAAGs represent only one way of looking at crime statistics.
In DPD’s 540s Sector, which stretches roughly from Mockingbird Lane to Oak Lawn Avenue and from Highland Park to Harry Hines Boulevard, violent crime is down in 2009, Aziz said.
He also noted that in the Cedar Springs Wycliff TAAG, individual robberies —which have gone from 67 in 2008 to 95 so far this year — account for the vast majority of the increase in violent crime.
The report shows that through Aug. 30 in the Cedar Springs Wycliff TAAG, there had been one murder this year compared to zero last year, two rapes this year compared to four last year, 11 business robberies this year compared to 16 last year, and 25 aggravated assaults this year compared to 24 last year.
And despite the overall increase in violent crime this year in the Cedar Springs Wycliff TAAG, there had been only two offenses in the last 28 days, compared to eight in the previous 28 days.
"In my opinion, we’re trending in the right direction," Aziz said.
Local crime prevention advocates said they were surprised to learn that the Cedar Springs Wycliff TAAG ranks so high on the list. Unlike more traditional crime analysis statistics, the TAAG numbers aren’t routinely made available to the public.
"That blows me away," said Nancy Weinberger, a longtime member of the Oak Lawn Apartment Managers and Stakeholders Crime Watch Group. "All I can tell you is that I’m shocked. It’s surprising, but it’s also very disappointing."
Michael Robinson, who launched an LGBT hate crimes advocacy group after witnessing the brutal robbery of Jimmy Lee Dean in Oak Lawn last year, called the statistics "un-freakin’-believable."
Robinson noted that the actual number of offenses in the Cedar Springs Wycliff TAAG may be even higher than the report shows, given that crime is historically underreported by LGBT people due to a fear of police and concerns about being outed.
Days after the second suspect in Dean’s attack was sentenced to 75 years in prison, Robinson said the numbers mean there’s a high probability something similar will happen in the future.
"We’ve got a lot of work to do in this community," said Robinson, founder of United Community Against Gay Hate.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 4, 2009.