Kingston, PhilipAfter the recent attacks in Oak Lawn, let’s take this moment to assess where we are, how we got here and where we want to be.

A dozen violent attacks on gay men constitutes a security crisis in Cedar Springs, but long before we reached that number, Dallas Voice and other media had alerted us all to what looked like a pattern of violent robberies in the neighborhood. Last month, Adam Medrano, who represents the west side of the street (I represent the east) organized a meeting to discuss police response to the increased threat.

At that time we learned that only one of these attacks was classified as a hate crime because only one had evidence of an anti-gay slur being used. Regardless, police and everyone else recognized that gay men were being targeted because of the perception that they are vulnerable.

At the meeting, Catrina Shead, chief of Northwest Patrol, promised the community increased uniformed patrols and increased undercover officers. While the undercover officers may have been deployed, I’m not sure the uniformed officers were. More on that in a minute.

These crimes have been very difficult to solve because they all involve lone victims who cannot identify their attackers, in no small part because of the violence of the attacks.

One solution to a lack of witnesses is cameras, and I think we were all surprised to learn that the operators on the street did not have private security cameras that monitored street activity. Adam was able to secure the expedited installation of 10 cameras that were already in the budget. He and I have also made available a large amount of bond funds to support a security plan currently being developed by the LGBT Task Force (Adam insists I add “which is the best task force in the city”).

The particularly brutal attack on Geoffrey Hubbard last Thursday (Nov. 19) became a “final straw,” of sorts. Adam got Mayor Mike Rawlings involved, and his visibility seems to have knocked loose whatever police resources had not been brought to bear after the October meeting.
DPD has now started what it calls “lockdown” patrols, and it has a suspect in custody.

We all owe Mayor Rawlings thanks for his help, but it raises the question why 11 violent attacks weren’t enough to trigger the kind of police response we’re seeing now. My impression is that Chief Shead is the right woman for the job but that she wasn’t initially given the resources she needed for a proper response.

It also seems clear to me that this series of attacks has highlighted the need for greater community organization, specifically with regard to security.

Former District 2 Councilmember John Loza has pointed out that Uptown has a long-standing Public Improvement District (a “PID”). Under that structure, land owners in a defined area agree to a very modest PID assessment collected with their property taxes every year. The funds are then administered by an independent board for the good of the community.

In Uptown’s case, that includes $100,000 a year to have off-duty DPD officers supplementing the regular patrols in the area. The money can also be used for other infrastructure improvements that promote pedestrian safety, beautification and strategic planning.

Where we want to go from here is the easiest part of this problem.

The victims of these attacks are not to blame for their situations (as I have seen suggested in some quarters). They were merely doing what the street invites them to do.

But for right now, please, please, please heed the advice of prosecutor Craig McNeil, who asks you to avoid walking alone. It’s sometimes hard to remember that after a night out; so plan ahead.

But the goal is to have a vibrant residential neighborhood working cooperatively with a dynamic commercial and retail street where LGBT citizens and their friends are safe and feel safe.

In the short term, greater police activity will protect us when we’re out on Cedar Springs.  Longer term, the answer is lights, cameras, action. We will listen to the advice of the Task Force and use identified resources to execute on their plan. The owners on the street need to step up, possibly through a PID. And DPD must focus more resources on patrol.

I can’t write about this issue without noting how proud I am of the leadership of Adam Medrano. He is a tireless advocate for the street, the LGBT community, and the city. He has done an excellent job of finding solutions to these threats, and I am honored to get to work with him.

Philip Kingston represents District 14 on the Dallas City Council. His districts encompasses the parts of the east side of Oak Lawn.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 27 2015.