Just after midnight on March 2, Alvin Jerome Joseph Jr. was walking his dog through the sea of apartments in Northeast Dallas where Skillman Street and Audelia Road briefly join when, for no reason police have been able to discern, a gunman shot him in the face. He died the next day at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.
At 5 p.m. on March 2, Dallas Police Department Deputy Chief Paul Stokes waded into the same sea to announced the creation of a new violent crime task force. The initiative would flood the Forest/Audelia area, as well as a handful of other crime hot-spots throughout the city, with SWAT, narcotics and K9 officers in an effort to reverse a spike in offenses that, just two months into the year, was threatening DPD's dubious but much trumpeted streak of 12 consecutive years of crime reduction.
The overarching strategy was sound; criminologists have repeatedly found that flooding areas with cops leads to reductions in crime. How sustainable the reductions are or what happens to attrition when a couple hundred of DPD's most highly trained officers begin feeling like cogs in Chief David Brown's PR machine are separate questions.
So far, ice cream giveaways and cute-kid photo ops aside, the surge has yielded no apparent impact on violent crime. The increased focus on the Forest/Audelia area certainly hasn't slowed the murders. To use an absurdly small sample size — the month before the task force launched versus the month after — the neighborhood's murders have doubled. Between February 1 and the time the task force's Twitter feed sent its first tweet a few hours before the public announcement, there were two murders: Joseph and 28-year-old Deangelo Golphin, who was shot while returning to his car from a Skillman Street 7-Eleven. In the 26 days since, there have been two double murders in the Forest/Audelia neighborhood. On March 17, police say 23-year-old Leonte Demond Stone shot and killed two men during a drug transaction in a unit in the Eldorado Apartments on Forest Lane. Then, just after midnight on Monday, police were called to Las Brisas apartments on Whitehurst Drive, where they discovered the body of 19-year-old Derek Jordan, whom police believe attempted to rob the men he was buying drugs from. A second, as yet unidentified shooting victim was found a half mile away on Royal Lane, also believed to have been involved in the drug transaction.
To take a somewhat larger (though still ridiculously small) sample size, the March homicide rate for 2016 (17) is more than triple the March homicide rate for 2015 (5). To take an even larger (but still pretty small) sample size, the year-to-date murder rate for 2016 is up by 86 percent. Robberies and aggravated assaults are also up by double-digit percentages over last year. And the overall crime rate is up 6 percentage points.
Which brings us to Monday, when Brown appeared before the City Council's Public Safety Committee to promise what The Dallas Morning News describes as an "overhaul" of the department. Nearly 100 officers will be tasked with serving domestic violence warrants. Seventy-two will be serving drug warrants, and 700 officers, including members of the command staff, will be put on foot patrol.
To summarize, police are going to do more, and they're going to do it better. Hopefully, they'll also do it without whining:
The very obvious problem with the overhaul is the same problem that afflicts the violent crime task force: there just isn't enough slack in the police department to do everything Brown is promising. Stretch it too thin for too long and something is going to have to break. That something could be Brown's job, given how he's hemorrhaging support from the rank and file. The Black Police Association is calling on the chief to resign, according to the Morning News.
And what if the spike in crime isn't something that can be fixed with better policing? There are lots of theories, but no one really knows what's caused crime to plummet over the past two decades. Maybe the modest increases in violent crime Dallas has experienced over the past two years (declines in property crimes, which are much more common, make DPD's crime-reduction claim technically accurate) are just the leading edge of a resurgence that will return rates to something closer to historic norms.