Today, City Council is scheduled to vote on an ordinance that would require the stores to have three security cameras and exterior lighting and to secure automatic teller machines to the floor. A violation would cost store owners a maximum fine of $500.
“It’s been challenging to make sure that we have the oversight that’s needed,” City Council member Jennifer Gates said at an April Public Safety Committee meeting. “Amending the ordinance so that code can have the authority to address some of these recurring issues will really improve the quality of life for the residents.”
A 2008 ordinance laid out rules for convenience stores to reduce violent crime. This amendment would beef up the ordinance and give code compliance officers authority to enforce it. “We can’t police ourselves out of every issue,” said Jesse Reyes, assistant police chief. But can Dallas code its way out of every issue?
The authority over convenience stores will be extended to the director of code enforcement, a move that will require cross-training with code staff. They’ll have to pull staff from other programs to get the effort off the ground.
They laid out a deployment strategy separating the stores into three tiers. Only Tier 1stores, locations with high crime, recurring safety issues and consistent calls for service, will be handled by DPD. Code would handle locations with minor violations. This will take some of the workload off of the police. DPD and city staff think this will lead to more comprehensive inspections.
Previously, stores were only required to have two surveillance cameras that shot good enough footage to capture potential suspects' faces. Now, stores need one more camera to ensure the cash register, entrance and exit are captured, and the cameras need to be of better quality. This will increase the likelihood of the cameras capturing useful footage for law enforcement.
Having the ATMs secured to the floor will make them harder to burgle and the exterior lighting will, in theory, make the area safer. Extra and better quality lighting is being installed throughout the city in an effort to reduce crime.
There are 759 registered convenience stores. DPD says there are plenty more that are not registered. Some people say there are twice as many throughout the city that need to be registered. Of those, 477 have been inspected and 12 citations have been handed out.
The Mayor’s Task Force on Safer Communities identified convenience stores as a common thread to neighborhood crime problems. The increased focus on convenience stores that drive crime is part of Dallas police Chief Eddie Garcia’s new plan to crack down on violent crime.
One manager at a Sunoco convenience store, Zain Dosa, told NBC he’s had to hire his own private security because the Dallas police often are too slow to respond. He said he wouldn’t mind extra attention from police and code enforcement officers because “we want our place to be safe and secure.”
But City Council member Tennell Atkins said code compliance officers are already spread thin and hard to get a hold of. “And by the time they get to know that area, then they move on somewhere else,” he said.
That's why Carl Simpson, director of code compliance services, pitched a $3 million plan to the city that would bring 34 new officers onto the team. Currently, 111 code compliance officers are spread across seven areas of the city. Simpson wants the extra employees to focus on health and safety concerns, especially in underserved areas. More code compliance staff are expected to be on the payroll by July.