Dallas

An Inside Look at How Dallas Police’s New Violent Crime Task Force Works to Clean Up High-Crime Communities

The Dallas Police Department is moving its new Violent Crime Task Force into new Dallas neighborhoods.

The four-week-old task force has been focused on making arrests and getting guns off the streets in dangerous North Dallas communities only, and some South Dallas community leaders are telling city council members they're feeling ignored.

Over the next few weeks, the 170-officer strong task force is headed that way. On Wednesday the task force started patrolling a targeted high-crime zone in East Dallas, not too far off Ross Avenue.

Task force officers expect to stay in the East Dallas high-crime hotspots until mid-April, before moving south again.

NBC5 spent the evening with Sgt. Paolo Sparacino. Previously assigned to a North Dallas police division, Sparacino has spent the last month supervising a group of six task force officers, patrolling unfamiliar streets.

"I rely on the guys I'm in charge of, and they rely on me," he said. "Any police officer who tells you they aren't scared is either lying to you or hasn't seen anything big yet."

Even though drugs and guns have been successfully seized during task force operations, a new and ongoing challenge, police say, is that the violence and drug deals are moving off the streets and behind closed doors.

"That's a different beast. That's hard for the street-level uniformed officer to combat," Sparacino said. "When the drug-dealers and gang members start being clandestine about it, start moving behind closed doors, it's hard for the street-level officer to get a handle on it."

Near Old East Dallas, about 20 police cruisers patrolled up and down the streets. Sparacino's officers worked the streets from 4 p.m. until almost midnight.

The Violent Crime Task Force focuses on a surge of marked units to dramatically increase visibility, and also an increased level of traffic stops.

"The officers knows what questions to ask, what order to ask them in, and that can lead to finding the drugs and the dope in the car," Sparacino said. "A lot of the bigger stuff you're seeing comes off of ordinary traffic stops."

The task force also keeps an eye on parking lots and parks, looking for suspicious people and possible drug deals.

On Thursday evening Sparacino didn't find that at JW Ray Park. He found kids playing basketball and playing on the playground.

He invited a group of curious young boys to the patrol car to turn on the lights and sirens, honk the horn, and speak over the loudspeaker.

Destiny Lovett said her 7-year-old brother had been terrified of police.

"He used to think that they were going to hurt them or shoot them," Lovett said.

"I don't think he's going to be afraid anymore, so this is going to help a lot," she said.

The kids were curious about a police officer's job and responsibility.

"Why do you have to carry a gun?" asked one 7-year-old.

"Because sometimes there are very bad people who want to hurt other people, and I may need to use it to stop them," Sparacino said.

"But, what if it's a zombie?" the child asked.

"A zombie?" Sparacino said. "Well, I don't think zombies are real. But if there is a zombie, I'd have to use my gun to protect you."

Statistics show that violent crime overall in Dallas is up 20 percent overall from the same period last year.

With 20 murders in the month of March alone, the homicide rate is up about 80 percent.

Police Chief David Brown says the overwhelming majority of March's murders are drug deals gone bad inside drug houses or private apartments, or acts of domestic violence.

The police chief said the task force is working and the crime spike is coming down.

He's now working on a new task force that will focus on getting warrants to deal with drug houses and known domestic abusers.

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