Morning News Spends Five Whole Minutes "Reporting" in its Lame Attack on a Car Wash
Data journalism is cool, sure, but why won't the Morning News send its reporters down to the car wash for some old-fashioned face-to-face reporting?
Rudy Bush and Tod Robberson, writers on The Dallas Morning News editorial board, think it's a great thing that police are barricading a car wash on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to force the owner out of business. Yesterday to buttress their case against the owner and rebut my own defense of him, Bush published the results of his research into crime incidents at the address, summarized with a sarcastic jibe at me: "... if you don't believe drugs are sold there, or at least have been sold for many years there, I want to make some real estate deals with you."
I hate real estate deals. But I love research. I did look over Bush's work. By going back six years, he was able to come up with 10 crime reports he said indicated chronic drug activity at Jim's Car Wash, 2702 MLK Blvd. The first thing I noticed in looking at the individual reports was that four of them did not take place at the car wash, although one of those four, the case of a bicyclist pursued by police for failure to wear a helmet, did wind up there.
A fifth case was the arrest of a person for loitering at the car wash: That person was arrested, according to the police report, because the owner of the car wash had filed a criminal trespass affidavit on the person. In other words, the owner of the car wash was trying to get police to keep the guy off his property.
The owner, Dale Davenport, has a decade-long history of trying to cooperate with police. Robberson, whose work on this issue has been fantastically sloppy, wrongly reports on today's Morning News opinion blog that Davenport began cooperating with police in 2009. He also suggests Davenport complained to the Legislature about negative publicity caused for his business by police raids.
If Robberson could calm down long enough just to read the clips on this story, he would see that Davenport went to the Legislature in 2004 on the advice of friends in law enforcement after his repeated attempts at cooperating with Dallas police hit a brick wall. At that time the city was pressuring Davenport to hire expensive private guards from a company owned by City Council member James Fantroy, now dead, who was later convicted of embezzlement and theft. The chairman of a Texas House investigative committee eventually compared the city of Dallas' treatment of Davenport to an organized extortion ring.
Back to Bush's crime reports. I was able to count only three of the 10 that were for drug sales at the car wash in a six-year period. That's one drug sale every two years, in an area famous for crack. Robberson and Bush want to argue that the car wash is the single greatest engine of crime in South Dallas and therefore deserves extra-legal and selective enforcement activities aimed at running it out of business. So the question here is context and balance: How bad is the car wash compared with businesses in the rest of the area?
The amount of research Bush devoted to this effort is what any member of the public could accomplish in approximately five minutes on the Dallas Police Department crime report website. Had Bush been willing to devote another 25 minutes to the effort, he would have been able to do what I did in half an hour.
I cut and pasted pages of incident report data from the police web page and put them into a simple Excel spreadsheet. Then I sorted the data by address. I looked for all incident reports from the first of this year to yesterday.
I found seven incidents this year at the car wash. It seems to me that makes Bush's count from 2008 low. If he was selecting reports only to find drug cases, then he made some mistakes by including, for example, things like counterfeit CD sales, bicycle helmet violations and loitering. But just for comparison, let's take my dates and numbers -- seven incident reports of all kinds at the car wash so far this year.
That puts the car wash one report ahead of the nearby Minyard supermarket, which has had six reports so far this year. It makes it even with the Martin Luther King Community Center just down MLK, which has had seven. Because the car wash is an open area covering two full commercial lots, it's probably more comparable physically to an area occupied by two service stations across the street from each other a few blocks away on Grand Avenue. Between the two of them, they have had 17 reports so far this year.
None of those enterprises has been barricaded by police in an attempt to drive them out of business. I am not aware of the Morning News ever editorializing to the effect that the Minyard store needs to be barricaded and run out of business. Maybe if they get one more crime report?
But the one that really attracted my attention was a short distance down Malcolm X in the same general neighborhood, a little grocery store called "Little World," which has had 20 incidents all on its own so far this year. Wow. Almost three times the count for the car wash, but no barricades have gone up there, either.
The other thing is this: The massive deployment of police personnel, equipment, dogs and other resources at the car wash isn't aimed at drug enforcement, anyway. What cops are doing at the car wash is writing tickets on people who agree to wash other people's cars for money, on the grounds that such activity violates the city's solicitation ordinance.
The city's solicitation ordinance is clearly written to prevent panhandling -- begging -- not offering to do work for money. And even at that, the ordinance cites the permission of the owner of a car wash as a specific defense against prosecution of anyone on that property for solicitation. All of the people who work at Jim's Car Wash have the permission of the owners to do so.
City Attorney Warren Ernst won't even acknowledge, let alone reply to my request for an explanation of this deliberate misuse of the ordinance. And really, I don't expect him to commit anything to writing about it, because when you put all of this in context with the city's known real estate agenda, this whole matter begins to smell more and more like an FBI case.
The pattern here -- plainly selective enforcement, deliberate misapplication of the law amounting to official oppression -- must be viewed against the mayor's stated goal of forcing the owners of the car wash to sell, probably to a nonprofit run by former City Council member Diane Ragsdale. That is what the Morning News editorial writers are defending so adamantly and so ham-fistedly.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.