Cruising for a Bruising

The truth about Deep Ellum crime

But there are too many chrome-coated coupes, souped-up Fast and the Furious wannabes and bass-booming SUVs slowly running laps from Commerce to Elm and back again to enforce the law. The majority of the cruisers began coming to Deep Ellum last summer, after police chased them away from their previous spot, Northwest Highway. Communicating via e-mail, they flirted with Oak Lawn briefly before setting up shop in Deep Ellum and have been going in circles since.

Besides the traffic snarls it creates, cruising is bad for entertainment districts such as Deep Ellum because it promotes a street-scene atmosphere rather than a club-going crowd. The more crowded the streets, the harder it is for people who want to go to a bar or a restaurant to get around, and the more likely it is that trouble will unexpectedly erupt. And anytime there's a big group of people in the street, criminals follow. As one Texas Proforce officer says, "They think they've got easy pickings."

The numbers support this last point. Statistics from the DPD show that crimes against persons in Deep Ellum are the highest they've been in years; there have been 48 (including four rapes) through June 30, compared with 61 last year and 54 in 2001. Of course, the rising crime rate isn't limited to one neighborhood: According to FBI reports, Dallas is No. 1 among larger U.S. cities for all crime and ranks just behind Chicago for most violent crimes. (See "No. 1 With a Bullet," July 31.) In Deep Ellum, the thinking goes, eliminate cruising and you cut the head off the snake.

Texas Proforce officers Joanne Cortez and Dale O'Connor try to keep loitering crowds moving along the sidewalks of Deep Ellum. They move the same groups of people all night.
Mark Graham
Texas Proforce officers Joanne Cortez and Dale O'Connor try to keep loitering crowds moving along the sidewalks of Deep Ellum. They move the same groups of people all night.

Yet the volume of traffic makes the no-cruising ordinance "almost unenforceable," as Lieutenant Golbeck says. Not that they don't try. The Deep Ellum Association has funded a couple of stings; the first, on July 11 and July 12, netted about 50 tickets. But the process is costly and time-consuming, not something they can do every weekend.

"It's kind of like working out on I-45 during the busy part of the day and doing drug interdiction," says Texas Proforce's William Deal, the officer in charge of the firm's Deep Ellum detail. "You've got so much traffic out there that you can't pick out the person that's a good target for something like that. It's kinda hard when you've got three lanes of traffic."

So they're eliminating the traffic altogether. For the next few weeks, maybe more, the DPD is attempting its most radical measure thus far: shutting down Commerce, Main and Elm streets, beginning around 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. (The shutdown began August 1.) Main has been closed on weekends for a while, and so have many of the side streets between Commerce and Elm. Some business owners don't think shutting down more streets is the solution. It's just another problem for them to deal with.

"Saturday night, come down to Deep Ellum about 11:30," says a club owner who asks not to be identified. "Stay until 2:30, then try to get out. Try to get out of Deep Ellum. It's impossible." And this was before the owner found out Commerce and Elm were to be closed, too.

"People can't get into Deep Ellum that come out late," the owner continues. "So if you don't have a crowd by 10:30, you're screwed. You're basically out of it."

Most, however, are willing to take their chances. "From what I've heard from the business owners, they think anything would be preferable to the current situation," says Councilman Loza, who recommended the shutdown.

One of them is Jackson Fulgham, who owns the building that houses the Factory Outlet and the Chocolate Bar on Commerce. He's been living in Deep Ellum for 18 months. Lately, the silver-haired Fulgham has taken to tooling around the area at night on his bike, getting a better feel for the situation.

"My eyes have been opened," he says. "I'm usually in my house by midnight. I just haven't realized how bad it gets out on the street. It's pretty wanton out there. In the beginning, I guess I didn't know enough to really look at it, but the problems didn't seem to be near what they are today. They're horrible on a Friday night, a Saturday night and some other nights, too. They'll be eight, 10, 12 people thick on a sidewalk. This is just a gathering place. It's more and more a drawback to the person who wants to come enjoy something. They can't do it."

Fulgham has a point. Deal and the eclectic crew of Texas Proforce officers working with him--among them: Ron Eggleston, a cargo pilot; Dale O'Connor, a heavily tattooed former bouncer from England; Yvonne Dupont, who works with her daughter Jocelyne--spend most weekend nights riding herd over the scores of people wandering the streets. On this Friday night, they move them from one end of the street to the other like seasoned ranch hands.

Deal, a burly former Maypearl police officer and 25-year Navy veteran, diffuses any tension with humor. The jokes are somewhat corny--"We just saw the Backstreet Boys," one woman tells him; "Yeah, well I'm a Fatstreet Boy," he answers--but they work. Most people do what he asks and leave laughing. He makes the rounds like the mayor of Deep Ellum, glad-handing every doorman, greeting everyone else with a friendly nod and his signature "How you folks doing tonight?" The routine makes the hours go by faster--his crew works from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays--but the nights can be monotonous. The same faces appear over and over; the only change is the address. No one goes anywhere, it seems, except to a different street corner, the sidewalk in front of another club.

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