Crime hot spot encompassing gay entertainment district also likely to get bait cars, license plate readers
The area surrounding Dallas’ gay entertainment district is one of 10 crime hotspots in the city expected to get surveillance cameras, bait cars and license plate readers by early summer, according to police officials.
The remainder of the city’s 27 major crime areas, known as Target Area Action Grids, will be equipped as part of the technology initiative by the end of the year.
Assistant Chief Tom Lawrence said police are planning a new program to target smaller areas within the TAAGs, in an effort to bring down crime citywide for an eighth straight year in 2012.
Police have seen improvements with the existing 115 cameras citywide and want to increase the cameras by 300, he said. An added 28 bait cars will also be distributed among the spots, in addition to a wider use of 28 license plate readers. The readers will scan plates’ information so stolen vehicles are identifiable and the vehicle information will display for officers when they stop drivers.
“We’re trying to get ahead of crime,” Lawrence said.
Previously known as the Cedar Springs-Wycliff TAAG and the Maple-Wycliff TAAG, the Wycliff-Lemmon hot spot is currently No. 7 for overall crime in 2012 as of April 15, despite crime falling 18 percent from April last year. But end-of-April stats combined with numbers from last year will determine the final ranking, and the worst 10 hot spots will receive the new technology first, Lawrence said. Wycliff-Lemmon is currently ranked No. 10, with two more offenses than the No. 11 TAAG, so things could change by month’s end, affecting when the technology will arrive. The Wycliff-Lemmon TAAG stretches from Maple Avenue to Lemmon Avenue and from Oak Lawn Avenue to Kings Road.
The cost of equipping the areas with the new technology is $300,000 per hot spot, Lawrence said, though the department is still reviewing different vendor pricing. While the funds are still needed to provide the technology to every area, he said the top 10 should have the new equipment in place by early summer and the remaining 17 spots stocked by the end of the year.
Scott Whittall, president of the Cedar Springs Merchants Association, said he’s grateful for the additional security measures. In February his brand new truck was stolen from outside his home a few blocks away from Cedar Springs. He’d had the truck fewer than two weeks.
Without a surveillance camera on his property, Whittall said he was hoping an apartment complex across the street had cameras, but it didn’t.
“I literally live blocks away and had a new truck stolen in February in front of my house,” he said, adding that burglary and theft of motor vehicles is high in the Cedar Springs area. “On a personal standpoint, I would definitely welcome surveillance cameras or bait cars or whatever has to happen to get the stats down.”
Additional cameras have been discussed several times for the Cedar Springs area, Whittall said, but nothing has come to fruition. He said the CSMA was in favor in the past of cameras in parking lots, and privacy issues have not arisen in the discussion. While the issue of license plate readers hasn’t been discussed by CSMA, he said he would address any concerns with members.
“We are all for protecting the patrons of Cedar Springs and the customers for all the merchants’ businesses and making it a much safer area,” he said.
“Privacy issues are always a fine line, but there’s almost nowhere you can go without being on surveillance.”
Richard Longstaff, owner of Union Jack on Cedar Springs, said he remembers when in the late ’70s police would keep a record of people who attended gay bars for potential lawbreaker files. He was a victim of it himself.
He said people had to park at least two blocks away to avoid their license plate numbers from being recorded.
But the mindset has changed on the strip, Longstaff said, because many people are out and open when they frequent the gayborhood. Anyone who is “deeply closeted” these days wouldn’t go to a gay bar, he said.
“The average gay person doesn’t really have concerns with that issue anymore,” he said.
Longstaff said he supports efforts to keep the crime down near his business and doesn’t think police target the gay community anymore.
Lawrence said police would strategically place cameras throughout areas where the most crime occurs, in order to better utilize them.
The City Council’s public safety committee heard the new technology plan in early April and supported it, said Councilwoman Pauline Medrano, who chairs the committee. “These days and age, I think people want the newest technology, they want safety — who doesn’t want to be safe?” Medrano said.
“And [people] want it safe around their business because that’s their livelihood.”
Medrano said she’s seen areas that show signs warning potential thieves that there are bait cars in the area and said she supports the police’s transparency. “I don’t think they’re targeting anyone,” she said. “You let people know. It’s not like it’s covert. You tell people, you have signs, and you let them know.”
Medrano said the ultimate goal of the initiative is to stop crime and change behavior by displaying that there are security devices.
Lawrence called the project “predictive policing” to know where crime happens and catch it when it does. “We want to be very open about it,” he said.
“We want everyone to know they’re there.”
He said an advising committee has been formed for community members to express ideas and concerns about the initiative. The first meeting was in early April and had about 20 people in attendance. However, he said he didn’t recall that anyone at the meeting said they lived or worked near Oak Lawn or Cedar Springs.
Anyone interested in attending an advisory committee meeting to give input on the technology initiative should email Assistant Chief Tom Lawrence at email@example.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 20, 2012.