Dallas police credit better cooperation with citizens, community groups, but some say they don’t think gay entertainment district is any safer
Crime fell 16 percent in 2008 in the area immediately surrounding the Cedar Springs strip, eclipsing a citywide drop of 10 percent, according to statistics provided by the Dallas Police Department this week.
But not everyone is convinced the numbers mean the city’s gay entertainment district has gotten safer.
The total number of major offenses in the area surrounding the strip fell from 685 in 2007 to 576 in 2008, the statistics show. Some categories saw much larger drops, with aggravated assaults going from 25 in 2007 to six in 2008, and individual robberies going from 69 to 47. There were no rapes or murders in the area in 2008, compared with three rapes and one murder in 2007. And the only category of offenses to see an increase in 2008 was residential burglaries, which jumped from 39 to 48.
"The main thing we attribute that to is better working relationships with the community, with the crime watch groups — that’s No. 1," said DPD Deputy Chief Malik Aziz, who’s over the department’s Northwest Division, which includes most of Oak Lawn. "The second reason is that we’ve placed a vast number of resources in that area."
Michael Doughman, executive director of the Dallas Tavern Guild, agreed that the decrease in crime is primarily due to increased collaboration between police and neighborhood groups — and specifically the Cedar Springs Merchants Association. The Tavern Guild, made up of gay and lesbian bars, works closely with the Merchants Association, which includes most business owners on Cedar Springs.
"We’re sort of doing our own neighborhood watch, and people are calling in suspicious behavior and reporting crimes," Doughman said. "We’re working with the police department and not just relying on them to be there if something happens that’s out of line."
Others, however, aren’t impressed by the statistics.
"I can probably give you numbers to substantiate anything I want," said Nancy Weinberger, coordinator for the Oak Lawn Apartment Managers and Stakeholders Crime Watch Group. "I don’t see that there’s a dramatic decrease in crime. I still see the same things that I’ve seen forever, the street hustlers, the prostitutes, the crackheads — all that shit on the street that you see all the time."
Michael Robinson, who recently founded United Community Against Gay Hate Crimes, said he doesn’t believe crime statistics accurately reflect what’s going on in the area, given that many LGBT people are reluctant to call police.
Robinson launched UCAGHC in response to the hate-crime beating of Jimmy Lee Dean in July 2007, which occurred just a block from the strip on Dickason Avenue.
"It puts you in a compromising situation if you’re down there and you’re not really out as gay," Robinson said. "If I was in that situation and I was gay but I wasn’t out to everybody, I wouldn’t call and report it either."
Both Weinberger and Robinson also suggested that even when police are called, reports aren’t always taken. They pointed to a recent case in which police refused to take a report because the victim of a robbery was intoxicated. Police did take the report the following day.
The Jan. 5 robbery occurred outside the Valero convenience store at 4040 Cedar Springs Road, which has long been identified as a trouble spot on the strip.
"Ultimately and optimally we would just like to see that go away completely," Doughman said of the Valero store. "It’s still not very well patrolled internally, which is the whole key to success."
Mohammad Taj, who owns the Valero store, said he’s done everything he can to address the problem, including installing additional security cameras and removing pay phones from the parking lot. "I don’t know what else I can do over there," Taj said. "Mostly I need some help from the police, really."
Deputy Chief Aziz said when resources become available, he plans to create a special beat for the Cedar Springs entertainment district and assign officers to it full time. Aziz also said he plans to look into the possibility of a storefront substation on Cedar Springs.
DPD Chief David Kunkle has called for another 10 percent reduction in crime citywide in 2009. Aziz said that means the department needs even more citizens and groups to get involved. "The key to this is we’re going to have to have better communications between the people who live and work there and the police so we can chase out the criminal element," Aziz said. "We’ve seen some great improvements, but we can do better."
• The Oak Lawn Apartment Managers and Stakeholders crime watch group meets at noon on the third Wednesday of every month at the Oak Lawn Library Branch, 4100 Cedar Springs Road. The group’s next meeting is Wednesday, Jan. 21. For more info, go to www.dallascrimewatch.org.
• United Community Against Gay Hate Crimes meets at 7 p.m. each Tuesday at the Bronx Restaurant, 3835 Cedar Springs Road. For more info, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
• For info about the Cedar Springs Merchants Association, go to http://dallascrossroads.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 16, 2009.