Operation Heat Wave Takes Dallas Cops (And Unfair Park) to the Streets in Search of Friends

​Over the weekend, media folk were invited to ride around in Dallas Police cars with officers of the Southwest Patrol Division in Oak Cliff to witness a summer crime-curbing program called  Operation Heat Wave. It's designed to improve police-citizen relations in the city's most dangerous neighborhoods, where, at the behest of Avon and 'Melo and an array of available T-shirts, folks just aren't too chatty with the cops.

I rode shotgun with Detective Ray Martinez, an undercover officer who donned his uni for Saturday's neighborhood canvassing. The Dallas Police Department called in reinforcements like Martinez for the summer-long neighborhood-surveying program.

Detective Martinez drove a few blocks from the station to Marsalis Street, a commercial stretch dotted with auto-repair shops. Along with two other officers, we walked a stretch of the area, checking in with business owners an employees about local crime.

Martinez explained that these auto shops are often targets for burglars. "For a burglar to make a quick buck, they can come in here and steal 10 stereos," he said.

Operation Heat Wave, named for the annual warm-weather crescendo in criminal activity, targets areas of the city with the highest burglary rates. It started April 18 and runs through August 31, and will feature hundreds of officers canvassing area neighborhoods to ask residents and business owners about crime and how to prevent it.

Martinez approached an employer of a bus depot that charters between Dallas and Mexico. The woman said more oversight was needed on her block, where a student from a nearby school was once assaulted by two day-laborers waiting on the corner. Like most, she seemed receptive to the officers' visit.

A few were hesitant. One guy, an employee at a place known to be a chop shop, told Martinez in Spanish that the owner was not available, hurrying the cops away. The officers didn't seem surprised at the reaction, but they were making sure to stop at every business -- even ones they had visited in less sunny circumstances.

Officers also knocked on doors at apartment complexes, some known for gang activity, in hopes that proactive interaction with the entire community would reduce future crime. Along their route, they distributed a questionnaire with items such as, "Are you aware of the burglaries that have occurred in your neighborhood over the past few months?" and, "Have you noticed any activity which you  might consider unusual or out of the ordinary?"

Saturday's ride-a-long and press conference to hype the program came the day after Fox 4's Lynn Kawano reported a recent "sudden 5-percent spike in killings" following "a 50-year low in 2010." Sergeant Eddie Douglas of the homicide unit told Unfair Park there's no clear explanation for the sudden rise, but that his office has recently been under more stress than usual. 

​Also as part of this initiative, residents can request to have valuable belongings marked by police with a UV pen. The markings will be recorded so if an item is stolen and resurfaces, it can be traced to its rightful owner, Lieutenant Regina Smith told Unfair Park. 

 "You can do your purse," she said, recommending that people even mark designer bags. It seems even grab-and-dash burglars have an eye for the real deal, purse-wise. "I've done all mine," she said.