Dallas summer program to keep teens safe kicks off

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The city of Dallas is urging families of teens to take advantage of its special summer program providing up to 10,000 all-access passes to some of the city’s most popular attractions.

It’s part of the city’s ‘Summer of Safety’ initiative aimed at keeping teens 13-17 safe over the summer months when crime typically ticks up.

There is a concern, however, that the program is not reaching the city’s “most” at-risk youth.

Beginning July 3, the ‘Teen All Access Pass’ program provides youth between the ages of 13–17 years old free entry to more than 10 cultural and recreational venues in Dallas.

Teens can pick up passes at their nearest recreational center.

“You can go to any one of our 40 recreation centers to pick up a pass as long as supplies last,” said Steven Baker, superintendent of the Dallas Parks & Recreation Department. “It’s limited to one pass per teen and if a household has multiple teens in it, each teen is eligible to get a pass.”

The program is in its third year. Approximately 8,000 teens picked up their free passes last year, according to Baker.

The city hopes all 10,000 passes are used this year.

Baker says he hopes “youth will learn something about our city and feel a little more welcome and feel part of it and just learn about what a great city and great resources we have in the city of Dallas.”

Community advocate Mar Butler says he’s concerned about whether the program is as effective as it could be.

“It is well intended. I appreciate Mayor Eric Johnson for thinking of this initiative,” said Butler.  “But at the same time, the process of how we’re distributing the passes and making sure that the right children who are in crime-ridden areas, which is the premise of the ‘Summer of Safety’ initiative, we have to make sure that they’re reaching the people who are in crime-filled areas. They’re the ones that need to take part in it because that’s how we’re going to prove the ‘Summer of Safety’ is actually being effective.”

Butler, who previously headed up one of the city’s anti-violence campaigns through Dallas-CRED, spends much of his time in the high-crime areas of South Oak Cliff, 75216.

“This is one of the areas on the police grid for violent crime,” he said. “It’s also one of the most impoverished, so these are the children that needed the most because they need to see something different.”

Butler says none of the families he’s spoken to has heard of the program.

“They have no idea about the ‘Summer of Safe’ initiative nor the summer passes for their children so therefor it lets me know there’s a disconnect in the level of communication and in our process of distribution.”

Butler is challenging the city to make changes to the program by using police crime data to target and give priority to the city’s highest crime areas over others.

He doesn’t agree with the city distributing passes evenly among all of its community recreation centers and this practice that Baker told NBC 5 about.

“If we find there’s an area that’s not going through all of their passes, their normal allotment, we can re-direct citizens over to those recreation centers,” said Baker.

Butler says he’s also frustrated at a delay in receiving their allotment at the Hiawatha Rec Center in South Oak Cliff.

The city acknowledges they encountered an unexpected delay in getting the passes early this year.

Butler says Hiawatha didn’t receive its allotment until today, the first day of the program, and already had representatives from a different rec center stop by to take some of their batches.

Butler says this leaves his summer initiative ‘We Got Us,’ which provides wrap-around services to children and their families, scrambling to notify families before the passes are depleted.

“We have to make sure that they’re reaching the people who are in crime-filled areas,” he said. “That’s how we’re going to prove the ‘Summer of Safety’ is actually being effective.”

NBC 5 reached out to the city Monday afternoon, asking for comment on calls for the teen pass program to be changed to focus much more on teens living in the most high-crime areas instead.

A city spokesperson sent NBC 5 the following statement:

All youth are at risk. Summer of Safety including Park and Recreation's Teen All Access Pass for 13- to 17-year-old Dallas residents helps young people stay busy to reduce crime and keep public safety trending in the right direction.  

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