By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Ah, the bourgeoisie and the quiet lives they live. Here in Bachman Lake, homes with neatly trimmed lawns line the streets, as do cars and Christmas lights and...condoms.
These days, many beleaguered Bachman-area residents--already sick of the strip clubs and other sexually oriented businesses (SOBs) that proliferate in the neighborhood--have other SOBs to contend with: the johns who lately have begun shtupping prostitutes in cars parked along residential streets.
There's Tim Dickey's home on Lockmoor Lane, for example. Just nights ago, Dickey--with a flashlight in hand--went two doors down from his middle-class residence to show proof of the infernal depths to which humans can plunge. For this former investigative reporter at KXAS-Channel 5, it didn't take long to find the crux of the story.
"Here's one," says this 48-year-old father of two, pointing the flashlight at a discarded condom by the curb.
"There's another...there's three."
He looks around. "There are tampons here too," he says matter-of-factly. "There's four."
All Dickey wants, he says, is to get the prostitutes "out of my friggin' neighborhood."
He may get some help from the Texas Legislature when it convenes next year. In September, the Dallas City Council, with the police department's backing, included prostitution among its public safety concerns, drafting proposed legislation that would stiffen the range of punishment for women and men with multiple convictions for prostitution.
As a lifetime resident of the Bachman Lake area, the city's "de facto red-light district," Dickey has had his run-ins with prostitutes. He recalls the time in 1985 when he was at a stop sign with his newborn daughter and one approached his car window.
Bachman Lake once was an upwardly mobile, family-oriented section of North Dallas. But that changed in 1974, when DFW International Airport opened and Love Field lost much of its air traffic, sending the area into a decline that's still being felt. These days, reports of prostitution and burglaries aren't unusual. But not until recently have the hookers begun encroaching on residential streets, say Dickey and other residents.
Dickey says he began hearing complaints of their presence this year and saw signs firsthand in his own neighborhood about three months ago.
"I don't know what the police can do but arrest and fine them," says Dickey, citing laws that make prostitution a mere misdemeanor. That usually amounts to no more than 180 days in a county jail or a $2,000 fine.
By most accounts, present laws are lax.
"I've been doing criminal law for 11 years," says Dallas City Council member John Loza, who also serves as chairperson of the public safety committee. "Prostitution tends to be a revolving-door offense." Those convicted usually get three days' credit for every day served in jail, leaving offenders with little more than a two- to four-month jail stint--if that much, depending on the case. "That's not enough time to deal with problems that led them to prostitution," he says.
Adds Capt. Jack Bragg, of the police department's vice section: "Do they spend enough time in jail? I don't think so. We see too much repeat business."
As of now, the vice squad includes 22 enforcement detectives who patrol the city. "Catching prostitutes is like catching fish," Bragg says of the unpredictable nature of the hunt.
Still, this year alone, the police department's Northwest Division, which includes Bachman Lake, has made 543 arrests for prostitution. That's about 50 percent of the 1,113 arrests for street-level prostitution made in the entire city and a 5 percent increase from the year before, Bragg says.
Bachman Lake resident Gary Turner points to vice's manpower as evidence that the city isn't serious about solving the problem. "That shows you where their priorities are," says Turner.
But Bragg's not joining the call for more personnel and says that his squad has the ability to recruit from other divisions if necessary. "We do the best job we can with what he [Chief Terrell Bolton] is able to give us," he says. "I support him in what he does."
State Rep. Will Hartnett has already promised to back the city's bill. If passed, those convicted three or more times of engaging in prostitution could be charged with a state jail felony, punishable by a maximum of two years in jail. (How much time is served would depend on a judge's discretion.) "I intend to file it--absolutely," says Hartnett, who says the issue hits close to home not only because of constituent complaints, but also because he lives on Walnut Hill Lane, a street with parts known to be frequented by prostitutes. Though it's too early to identify the bill's potential opponents, Hartnett entertains the prospect that "criminal defense lawyers" and "libertarians" would oppose it. But he guarantees it will be filed by January 15.
That's good news for Dickey's neighbor Gina Velez-Lopez, a 15-year resident of the area. "Never in my life have I come face to face with this," says Lopez, adding that a few weeks ago a neighbor told her of cars coming and going along the block at odd hours of the night. Just this Thanksgiving Lopez was walking out of her home at 7 a.m. to get the paper when she saw several women in short tops and boots who she surmised were prostitutes. She told them they needed to leave. "You don't tell me what to do, bitch," she says one answered.
"I feel victimized," she says. "I feel the community is at risk, the neighbors are at risk, young children are at risk."
For Gary Turner, an eight-year resident of Bachman Lake, part of the solution lies in getting "in the city's face." He publishes a community paper called Crime and Politics, in which he recently ran photos showing prostitutes soliciting men at a nearby 7-Eleven. (The store recently hired two off-duty police officers to patrol it along with nine other stores in the Northwest Division area, says Jeff Feldman of 7-Eleven's division of loss prevention.)
On a recent night, Turner drove around the outskirts of his neighborhood, stopping off at the convenience store. "Just wait," the store clerk told him in a lowered voice, while standing in the back of the shop, "they will come."
In the hours after midnight on that cold night, men--pimps and lookouts, the 36-year-old Turner said--stood outside the store for hours, while a young, petite woman in high-heeled boots and a mini-skirt walked a small strip of the street.
Police made their presence known by occasionally driving by the area.
"A girl can have 30 [outstanding] tickets and be out on the street within the hour," said one cop, standing with another beside their patrol cars. "We're so overwhelmed," said the other, on robbery detail. "We need more manpower." As for legislation, he said: "No more laws, please."
Sometime after 2 a.m., 21-year-old beauty school student "Jazzy" was walking outside a nightclub. She's been working these streets for two months. "I can have 100 customers a night," she said, offering up that improbable number through a gelatinous smile. Farther down on the adjoining Harry Hines Boulevard, a young blonde walked up and down in tight blue pants, and with a vacant stare waited for her next john. Soon, a middle-aged man in a white pickup truck drove up near her, into a parking lot.
The sight's all too familiar for Turner, who in the past year has gone out about a dozen times recording on his video camera such seedy exploits, all in the hope of getting the city to take further action. "Why should the neighborhoods in the northwest area be a sacrificial lamb for the city?" Turner asks. The city, he says, "needs to keep pushing" until prostitution is out of Dallas. He's convinced that's possible. As he puts it: "It's not rocket science."