Now, police can arrest a murder suspect before they commit a crime. Just kidding, that’s the plot of Minority Report, but Dallas Police Department's crime-prevention program is shaping up to be pretty similar.
Since it was introduced as an initiative last November, the Starlight surveillance program has helped law enforcement slow illegal activity at three participating locations, outgoing police Chief Renee Hall said at a Tuesday press conference.
Now, the department is expanding surveillance to four other businesses.
“You have pushed us to drive down crime, and we are doing such,” Hall said, speaking outside a new Starlight location, a Lake Highlands Chevron.
Starlight employs Motorola camera technology outside supervised businesses, and officials constantly monitor the footage from police headquarters. Doing so allows for a faster response time, officials claim, and responding officers are better prepared for what they’re about to encounter.
Cameras are equipped with supposed crime-detection software, and businesses are outfitted with signage and a conspicuous blue light.
“Technology properly applied makes us more effective, more efficient, allows us to be better connected to our community, and it reduces crime,” said police Maj. Jim Lewis, who runs the intelligence-led policing division. “Starlight is one such example of that.”
Calls requesting police service have dropped by 39.6% at participating businesses when compared with last year, Lewis said; offenses were reduced by 35%.
Although the pilot has slowed crime at Starlight-serviced locations, some worry that it will just move elsewhere. Funding could also be an issue, as police are actively seeking individual donors to help keep Starlight aloft.
“We’re open to any solution to fund the program,” Lewis said. “However, we also recognize that there’s significant challenges for every city within the country, and we’re trying to be good stewards of the resources that have been made available to us.”
City Council voted to gut DPD’s overtime budget by $7 million earlier this month.
Starlight’s pilot program was funded by the nonprofit Safer Dallas, which frequently makes donations to police-friendly causes. A 7-Eleven in District 4 and another in District 14 participated in the initiative, as did Ferguson Food Mart and Texaco Gas Station in District 9.
The additional four locations announced Tuesday are:
- Chevron, 2944 N. Buckner Blvd. in District 7
- American Dollar Plus Store, 9770 Forest Lane in District 10
- EZ Trip Food Store, 9798 Forest Lane in District 10
- Chevron, 9791 Forest Lane in District 10
The program has especially focused on convenience stores, which can be hot spots for criminal activity.
Some Dallas residents were afraid to enter certain stores because of the crime that regularly occurred on-site, officials said. Last week, DPD reported that aggravated assaults have increased considerably since 2019, many of which occur at such locations.
DPD plans on counting 20 participating locations by the end of the year, Hall said.
A “significant number” of suspects are in the process of prosecution thanks to the pilot program’s success, Lewis said. Robberies and open-air drug sales are the main two crimes that have been discouraged because of the surveillance, he said.
Although the pilot stores reported successes, Lewis acknowledged that crime may just be moving down the road. Even if that happens, it still gives police an advantage, he said; criminals will be thrown off-balance by having to conduct business in an unfamiliar area.
District 10 Councilman Adam McGough said he’s optimistic that Starlight will help lower crime in his neighborhood, where safety is a major concern.
“We don’t have a library around here, we don’t have a rec center, we don’t have a park, we don’t have a culture center in this space. We’ve got to make it safe,” McGough said. “And so that’s what we’re doing here today.”