If publisher Gary Turner expects to get rich from Crime and Politics, he'll have to try harder. Only one of the handful of mid-afternoon, weekday shoppers at Albertson's on Midway and Northwest Highway had ever heard of it, even though a yellowing stack of the free neighborhood newspaper with the catchy name fills a lower shelf of the grocery store's prominent newspaper racks.
Crime and Politics is right there, underneath the local daily, next to the jam-packed display of weekly store specials. The lone, admittedly sporadic reader points to the paper's signature center spread, a large street map denoting nearby locations of burglaries, thefts, assaults, robberies, and rapes called "Crime at a Glance." "If you want to know where the crime is around here," he says, "that's where you look."
But if Turner expects to get the attention of Dallas leaders, law enforcement, and area neighborhood associations with Crime and Politics, he's already done that. The fledgling freebie is a grassroots effort by Turner and partner Doug Nord to spotlight crime, convicted sex offenders, city code violators, and sexually oriented businesses in Turner's neighborhood -- a mix of homes, topless bars, apartment complexes, and shopping centers bounded by LBJ on the north, Marsh Lane on the west, Northwest Highway on the south, and the Dallas North Tollway on the east. Turner prints 5,000 copies of the 6-month-old anti-crime crusade and distributes them every three weeks.
Turner's front-page photo of a controversial "Condom Sense" billboard promoting an adult novelty store on Walnut Hill Lane is typical of the paper's mission. "That was a heated issue for the Walnut Hill-area merchants," he says. "It was a good story, and we hope it encouraged people to take individual responsibility and get involved." Turner wrote the folksy-toned, typo-ridden saga himself, and says he got a lot of media mileage out of it.
Dallas City Council member Donna Blumer found Crime and Politics on her doorstep, she says, when the publication first came out, and noticed from the "Crime at a Glance" map how Bachman Lake-area crime affected people in her district. "There was a lot of crime in the area which borders District 13 to the east," she says. "I'd been involved with several neighborhood associations who were working to fight crime, so I was already interested." She met Turner when he introduced himself at City Hall, and Blumer says, "He's not one of those people who sits around and grouses about problems. He does something about it." Her constituents, she says, are supportive of the paper.
Turner's editorial policy includes focusing on the good with the bad, highlighting achievements by local police, neighborhood watch groups, and community-service organizations that mentor trouble-prone local kids. He and Nord report what local politicians are doing -- or not doing -- about what he says is a growing and frustrating crime problem in Dallas. "For a lot of our readers and constituents," he says, "their big concern is to try to clean up the area, increase property values, and make it more of a family environment."
The fifth and most recent issue came out October 1, with a cover story about community activist Linda Neel, who was recognized by the city council for her work as the neighborhood crime-watch chairwoman for the Bachman Northwest Highway Community Association.
Based on the feedback he has had from readers who see Crime and Politics through a combination of door-to-door distribution, subscription sales, and a growing number of racks at neighborhood businesses, Turner believes he's making a difference, although not a profit. "I didn't say I was making a living doing this," the 35-year-old, fourth-generation Dallasite says. "I said the paper is paying for itself, and it did from the very first issue."
The Northwest division of the Dallas police cooperates with Crime and Politics, furnishing crime statistics to Turner. "They do this for me as a favor," Turner says. "They were apprehensive at first as to what the publication was going to be about. I can understand that, because they're always beat up on." The paper ran a flattering profile of Deputy Chief John C. Martinez when he was named head of the Northwest division. Martinez says he has come to think of Turner's paper as a kind of report card on how the division is doing. "It gives people an understanding of what's going on in their community," Martinez says. "If crime is down, they need to know that. If crime is up, they need to know that too. They have to work just as hard as we do to improve their neighborhoods."
Martinez says Crime and Politics' reporting of statistics alleviates the perception that the area's entertainment district attracts more than its share of criminal activity. "Actually, right now, crime is low," he says. "Where we could improve is in nonviolent crime. We encourage people to lock their cars, take their cell phones with them, that sort of thing. We encourage people to do something to help themselves."
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Turner lives in this northwest Dallas neighborhood, listens to a police scanner, and runs Crime and Politics out of his house. His political science degree from the University of Texas, a post-college career in retail sales, and a short stint selling ads for the Dallas Observer led him to his new venture. Turner says he's careful not to reveal his personal political ideology or use Crime and Politics as a vehicle to support political candidates. Still, he's a self-described "conservative" and gets heated up on the topic of sex offenders. He printed the first "Child Sex Offenders" list in the paper's third issue, and the fact that most of them were "running around on probation and deferred adjudication" gets him steamed. "It shows a psychosis in the nation," he says. "It's just common sense. They need to be put away forever. You hear, over and over, that all the experts say they can't change."
Turner says he'll add a regular pullout section with pictures, names, and addresses of convicted sex offenders in the neighborhood to Crime and Politics. "People are very concerned. We try to run lists and numbers of associations people can get involved with if they want to change things," he says. "We want to run editorials, but we want to keep it unbiased." But he lives in this neighborhood, and it's difficult to disguise his strong opinions on some of the topics Crime and Politics tackles. "Like the sex offenders," he says. "I want these guys put in jail. I don't want them running around the neighborhood, having the opportunity to molest these kids again."
Albertson's, along with several of the neighborhood businesses that fill the strip center on Midway, advertises in Turner's 12-page tabloid, which he says will soon grow to 16 pages. For now, Crime and Politics is "on hold for a couple of weeks," Turner says, while he focuses time and resources on developing a related Web site to attract more readers and benefit advertisers. "We'll put our most popular features on the Web site, and readers will be able to link to advertisers' sites," he says.
Turner seeks out potential Crime and Politics advertisers himself, making the rounds of neighborhood businesses, chewing the fat with store-owners who have had it with crime or who stand to profit from a fearful public. The bulk of the advertisers seem perfectly suited for a crime-awareness and -prevention publication: security companies, steel-door manufacturers, security-vault installers, and attorneys. "It's not a hard sell," he says. "People are reading it, if for no other reason than the 'Crime at a Glance' map."