No. 1 With a Bullet

Welcome to America's crime capital

Dallas is Number One. We have the worst crime rate of America's major cities, based on the most recent set of FBI crime statistics. And guess what? It's getting way worse even as you read this.

Murders in Dallas in June were up 300 percent over the same period in the previous year. For the first six months of this year compared with the first six months of last year, murder in Dallas is up 71 percent.

Nobody can catch us now.

Dallas is No. 1 among big U.S. cities for all crime and No. 2--behind Chicago--for most violent crimes, according to FBI reports. The chart above shows the number of all crimes per 100,000 population and the number of murders, robberies and aggravated assaults per 100,000 people. (We've excluded rapes from the violent crime category since not all cities report those numbers to the FBI.)
Dallas is No. 1 among big U.S. cities for all crime and No. 2--behind Chicago--for most violent crimes, according to FBI reports. The chart above shows the number of all crimes per 100,000 population and the number of murders, robberies and aggravated assaults per 100,000 people. (We've excluded rapes from the violent crime category since not all cities report those numbers to the FBI.)
Dr. Elba Garcia, chairwoman of the city council public safety committee, says the city needs to "open the Pandora's box and clean it out."
Peter Calvin
Dr. Elba Garcia, chairwoman of the city council public safety committee, says the city needs to "open the Pandora's box and clean it out."

The numbers are just staggering. In order to get your mind around the throngs of people who are victims of crime in this city, you have to compare them to some other well-known group. Let's take voters, for example.

Last year more than twice as many people in Dallas were victims of crime as the number who voted to elect Laura Miller mayor. If you added all of the votes cast for council members Elba Garcia, John Loza, Steve Salazar and James Fantroy, you'd still be more than 1,000 short of the number of people in Dallas last year who were raped, murdered or robbed.

In fact, the number of Dallasites who were raped, robbed, assaulted, burglarized or otherwise stolen from last year is almost twice the number of votes cast in the recent election and runoff election for all 14 council members.

The FBI numbers for last year are scary enough. The Dallas Police Department's own numbers are absolutely bone-chilling. So far this year, business robberies are up more than 12 percent, residential burglaries up more than 9 percent, theft more than 11 percent. In June 2002, there were seven murders in the city. In June of this year there were 28. At this pace, we'll hit 244 murders at the end of the year, compared with last year's total of 192.

When the numbers from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report are used to rank American cities with populations of a million or more, the results are devastating for Dallas. The overall crime rate, violent and nonviolent, is higher in Dallas than in any other city with a population of more than 1 million. There are three times as many crimes reported in Dallas per 100,000 people as in New York City. We rank in the top four for murders per capita, with Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Dallas is No. 2 in per capita nonviolent theft and fraud, after San Antonio. We're second for rape, after Philadelphia, with more than twice as many rapes per 100,000 people as New York City.

We are the second worst in the country for violent crime. We are numero uno in robbery, burglary and arson. Your chances of being burglarized in Dallas are twice what they are in New York City.

Afraid of crime? Worried about becoming a victim? Hurry! Pack your bags! Move to New York!

On the other hand, if you happen to be a crook, I would advise staying put. Dallas Police Department numbers show this is an excellent venue for burglars, for example. According to the department's clearance rates for business burglary, almost 93 out of 100 business burglars in the city this year will go un-caught.

Un-caught--that's scot-free. A 93 out of 100 chance of getting away with it seems much better than running away to Mexico. After all, you might get stopped at the border.

The clearance rate for murder is much better, of course, because murder is a more serious crime. For murder, DPD is hitting around 60 percent of cases solved this year. That's just a little lower than the national average.

But then you could also look at it this way: Our murder rate per 100,000 souls is 14 percent higher than the national big-city average, and of the ones we have, the vast majority probably are not of the Agatha Christie variety. I look at a clearance rate of 59.5 percent for murder so far in 2003, and I figure that means I can get real drunk and real mad, walk into one of the less lovely drinking establishments in my part of town with my blunderbuss and send some citizen to his everlasting reward. All I have to do is go home and lounge around in my wife-beater T-shirt watching reality television: I've got four chances out of 10 of getting off scot-free!

Those aren't such terrible odds, are they? And we say the criminals are the stupid ones.

The latest numbers are terrible, but they aren't brand-new. Dallas crime rates have been getting really bad for at least a couple of years. I am aware that the most recent numbers finally have put some kind of fear of God in our otherwise oddly complacent city leadership; phone calls are flying back and forth between their various vacation spots as we speak, and a special briefing of the city council is being hurriedly cobbled together for early September, probably with an eye toward bringing in an outside auditor to see what in the hell is wrong with the police department. And all of that is absolutely to the good. It already sounds better than the usual Dallas response to unpleasantness: "Quick, look over there! It's the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders!"

But let me just ask you something in passing here, and then we'll go on to the serious business. Wasn't Laura Miller going to tackle the basics? Is there something more basic than having the worst crime rate in the country?

And before I sound like I'm piling it all on her, please let me add that she actually may have done a little better than her colleagues. She's still the only one at City Hall who ever dared to ask our police chief a serious question about why his department can't tell the difference between cocaine and wallboard. (For out-of-towners: This is a reference to our "fake drugs" scandal, in which Dallas police arrested people on whom bags of ground-up gypsum had been planted to look like coke. Our police chief, Terrell Bolton, has never uttered a syllable of responsibility for this and instead is famous for saying that at least his officers prevented drug addicts from being made sick by injecting, smoking or snorting wallboard.)

Bolton, who gets more Queeg-like with every passing hour, has convinced what passes for black leadership in this city that it's all about his being the city's first black chief. Therefore, anyone who complains about the horrendous crime rate under his regime is a racist. His approach to reforming the department? Two biggies: Rearrange the command structure so that Internal Affairs is more directly under his personal control and--my personal favorite--stop using the county's forensic laboratory.

Right now the police department sends all of its wallboard to the county's forensic lab for testing. Under the deal Bolton wants, a private lab would do the testing and would report only to Bolton. That's to protect the police department from racist chemists who try to come up with test results showing that perfectly good cocaine is: 1) wallboard, or 2) ground-up billiard parlor chalk.

But before I heap it all on the chief, I still see enough blame left here to go around. We have the very public instance earlier in the year when Dallas police officers stormed the city council chambers like a bunch of pissed-off Gomers from Frisco, making a scene because they didn't get a huge enough pay raise. Who was the hero in that picture?

And before I stop slinging blame, might I suggest, compadre, that you and I go take a gaze in the mirror? Isn't it possible that what this city needs, in addition to a competent police chief and cops with better manners, is a big fat tax hike to pay for more cops, better salaries for cops, more training and better equipment?

I put calls in to the recent chairpersons of the council's public safety committee. I didn't call the chief, because what am I going to ask him at this point? "Is it true you're scary-paranoid?" Most of them did not call me back, but this is their hiatus, and they are supposed to be on vacation.

I did talk to Councilwoman Elba Garcia, who has only just now been appointed chair of the public safety committee. She conceded that there is talk going on between the scattered council members over the horrible new numbers.

Garcia had interesting things to say about what approaches the council might take. She said she will wait to hear more of what her peers on the council are thinking, but right now she is leaning toward bringing in an independent outside entity to examine the Dallas Police Department from top to bottom.

"One of the first things we have to do is know what are our strengths and what are our deficiencies, and that is only going to be done by an efficiency study," Garcia said.

"Of course, people are going to say, 'Golly, once you open that can of worms, anything can happen.' Sure. We are going to find out what's really really wrong with our police department, right? But at the same time, if you want people's confidence, you have to open the Pandora's box and clean it out."

Mayor Miller, on vacation in California, took as her beach book Leadership by Rudolph Giuliani and Ken Kurson. She clearly has been focusing on the issue of crime and cops and already has a page in mind to borrow from Giuliani's book. As soon as she gets back she wants to set up weekly accountability meetings in which the chief and his top command will be asked what has happened that week with crime and what they plan to do about it. She says it worked in New York.

"According to the book, if you look in Appendix A, it shows, I think, a 57 percent decrease in crime when Giuliani instituted the system, and I thought to myself, 'We need to do a weekly meeting.' So the first week when I get back in August, we have a meeting set up with several council members and the chief, and we're going to put together this system."

A person who has been trying to stir the crime-rate issue in Dallas is Calie Stephens, editor of a Web page called www.dallascrime.com (well worth visiting). We spoke the other day, and he made an excellent point: There probably isn't anything City Hall could do to enhance the city's tax base that would be as effective as bringing down the crime rate. If crime and criminality were ever containerized in identifiable parts of town, those days are long gone. We see it spilling and spreading and oozing everywhere.

What could drive up property values and fatten city coffers more than reducing people's fear of crime? Speaking of his own street in the Greenville Avenue/Park Lane area, where he says values have been badly hurt by crime, Stephens said, "You could hire full-time police walking up and down Holly Hill for the savings you would get in extra tax revenue."

Garcia's idea seems good. Scour DPD from top to bottom: Figure it out. Miller's idea is great: focus, focus, focus. And Stephens is right, too: There are huge payoffs for getting it right. It's just so scary that it didn't get fixed long ago, and instead it's getting worse.

Fast.

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