Fighting Crime and Coronavirus at the Same Time

Northwest Dallas neighborhood seeks protection from low-level crimes for which police have been asked not to make arrests

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Crime in Dallas has not stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Evidence of that can be found on Walnut Hill Lane near Stemmons Freeway, where neighbors said some crime problems have grown worse since the Dallas County Sheriff asked police not to bring low-level offenders to the jail because of the coronavirus outbreak there.

Prostitutes walking the street are a common sight on Walnut Hill. On Sunday morning, Rolando Rosales, the owner of the Wild Turkey Restaurant, became a victim of the city’s surge in business burglary.

“It’s been very difficult,” Rosales said.

He first spoke with NBC 5 in March of 2019 when Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall promised to help Northwest Dallas businesses combat the prostitution nuisance that drove regular customers away.

“About three months ago, I would say it got reduced. But the last couple of months, it’s just been normal again,” Rosales said.

In October 2019, Rosales was a victim of the Dallas tornado that destroyed much of his restaurant. He struggled to rebuild and reopen late last year, only to be closed again in March by coronavirus orders.

“Now we got this with the people breaking in. So, it’s been very difficult,” Rosales said.

Surveillance cameras in his business recorded images of two men who are not employees around 6 a.m. Sunday morning. Rosales said the burglars stole around $3,000 worth of top-shelf liquor and meat that he planned to sell to customers. He said police told him detectives would not be able to speak to him about it until Wednesday.

Figures presented to a Dallas City Council committee Monday show reductions in some categories of crime during the first four months of 2020.

But violent crime was up 4%, led by a 35% surge in aggravated assault that was not family violence.

Chief Hall said it is the result of gang violence and conflict among people in close quarters during stay-at-home orders.

“We’re seeing the same thing everyone else across the country is seeing,” Hall said.

Business Burglary was up about 12.5% in the first four months of 2020 as crooks struck places that were closed by the coronavirus pandemic.

 “I’m not saying we are on track by any means,” Hall said. “What I’m saying is, we are seeing some reduction in some areas and my statements is, we do have a lot of work left to do.”

Police told city council members a summer crime initiative is planned to focus efforts on areas that need attention based on data.

Rosales said his neighborhood should be included since the Sheriff asked police not to make lower-level arrests.

“It makes the neighborhood very difficult, but I would say if they would put more police around, at least just to patrol the area more frequently, that would probably help the crime. I understand the police don’t want to put anybody in jail because of all these problems, but I think they can help us by putting more police around,” he said.

In an attempt to combat crime without using police, former Assistant Police Chief David Pughes has been tapped by the City Manager to start a new 'Office of Integrated Public Safety Solutions.'

“It’s important to go out and talk with business owners and residents, and develop our own stakeholders, get our own people on the ground who can tell us what’s really going on,” Pughes said.

His office will coordinate measures like reducing blight and improving lighting. A Mayor’s Taskforce and Chief Hall’s 2020 crime plan both suggested those other strategies to reduce crime beyond what police officers do.

“What we’ve been able to do is take feedback from both of those studies to help guide creation of this new Office of Integrated Solutions,” Assistant City Manager Jon Fortune said.

A drastic economic downturn from the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a sudden $33 million city of Dallas general fund budget shortfall, mostly because of plummeting sales tax revenue from so many closed businesses.

Nearly 500 city employees are being told to take unpaid furloughs and a hiring freeze was put in place.

Pughes said Monday that he believes the hiring freeze will not stop recruiting for several employees to staff his new office. And police have been told they are exempt from the freeze. But finding money for programs like neighborhood lighting may be difficult in a budget crisis.

A police staffing report Monday said the police budget is around $6 million higher than forecast because police sworn manpower is larger than expected for the 2020 budget year. Higher pay has helped Dallas keep and recruit more officers.

The current force of 3,141 is around 100 officers larger than the low point two years ago but still around 550 below the peak in 2011.

Rosales said adding 100 more officers has produced no crime-fighting protection improvement that he can detect for his restaurant.

“Sometimes it comes to mind, what am I doing here. But we're going to fight,” he said.

One way or another, Rosales said he hopes the City of Dallas will find a way to reduce crime and help him stay in business on Walnut Hill Lane.

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