A little-known city program in Dallas is helping residents take back their neighborhoods by tackling blight, crime, and anything else that threatens their quality of life.
The Community Prosecution program has been around for more than a decade, yet Community Prosecutor Kristen Kramer says she runs into people every day who have never heard of her position or have no clue what it is she does.
"We'll take a look at a problem and if it's something the team can really sink its teeth into and work on, we will," said Kramer, who works in the northeast part of the city.
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Community Prosecutors are city employees who work in the City Attorney's office. They're each assigned to a specific neighborhood in Dallas, where they try to identify problem properties and work with the property owners to find fixes for them.
Kramer says their effectiveness relies heavily on community members letting them know where the problem spots are.
"I attend a number of HOA meetings, neighborhood association meetings, apartment manager meetings so that the community members know that if there's an issue they feel is above what general code can handle or something that just keeps going on no matter how many times they call 911, they have another resource," said Kramer.
This week, Kramer and a team she assembled — which included members of Dallas Police, Fire, and Code Enforcement — visited a strip mall she'd received several complaints about.
Residents in the area complained the shopping center was littered with trash and that the parking lot had become a hot spot for crime.
The team documented those problems and spoke with the property owners, explaining to them how and why they should clean up the shopping center. If that doesn't work, Kramer has the ability to take legal action against the property owners and compel them to make changes.
She says she and other Community Prosecutors provide "extra teeth" for residents who want their communities to be better.
"They have pride in where they live and pride in their community and they want it to be better," said Kramer. "They want to make sure that where they're living is a good place for their children and they want to have that sense of community — absolutely, I've seen that."
And together, they're getting results. Kramer says there was another shopping center near Forest and Audelia that residents had complained about for a long time. After she and her team got involved, the property owner took steps to improve things. Now, crime has drastically been reduced there.
"I do believe that it's worthwhile," said Kramer."
For more information about the Community Prosecution Program, you can call the Dallas City Attorney's Office or reach out to your local code enforcement office.