City Hall

Morning News Allows Twice the Crime as Gas Station It Calls a Nuisance

The city is suing the owner of a Texaco station on Interstate 635 at Ferguson Road in far East Dallas for failing to curtail crime.
The city is suing the owner of a Texaco station on Interstate 635 at Ferguson Road in far East Dallas for failing to curtail crime. Jim Schutze
Earlier this week, The Dallas Morning News ran an editorial under the headline, “Dallas businesses that become criminal hubs must be held responsible.” The newspaper gave City Hall a pat on the back for filing suit against a Texaco station in far East Dallas:

“Ratcheting up pressure against property owners where criminal nuisance violations are pervasive,” the paper said, “is essential to cleaning up the places where criminals congregate.”

So I took a little look-see. I didn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to find out how much crime happens near the gas station in question. The Dallas Police Department makes that pretty easy to do with an interactive map. You can do it, too. 

According to the map published by the police department, during July 1-31 in an area within 1,000 feet of the Texaco at 9791 Centerville Road, there were 15 active criminal events, not counting paperwork matters like warrant holds from outside agencies. So the police acted on 15 suspected, alleged or reported crimes within a radius of a little less than two blocks around the gas station.

Interesting. Then another thought occurred to me. You know what else might be interesting? I should look up the crimes that took place in the same period within 1,000 feet of The Dallas Morning News at 1954 Commerce St.

Oh. My. Goodness. People. We got a crime wave.

In July, the area near the Morning News headquarters saw more than twice the amount of crime near the Texaco. We are talking 38 criminal events. And a lot of this stuff had to be quite visible from Morning News windows — an absolute rash of drunkenness, compared with the Texaco, not to mention disorderly conduct and more serious crimes such as aggravated assault.

From July 1 to July 31, the area near the Morning News headquarters saw more than twice the amount of crime near the Texaco.

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In their editorial, the Morning News said it was a good thing the city is suing business owners for allowing too much crime in their areas: “In each instance, city attorneys, community prosecutors and police attribute crime in the area in part to property owners and business managers who have not done enough to deter criminal activity.”

Well, what about the Morning News? In July alone, the two-block area around the paper’s headquarters saw six assaults, three thefts including a car theft, two frauds, two car burglaries, a criminal traffic incident and three acts of vandalism, but here’s the big stuff: In that same period, the same area saw 12 alcohol violations, three drug arrests and six disorderly conducts.

Listen, I’m just worried about the people trying to get into the Morning News building to place an ad. They’ve got to wade through this sea of drunks, drug addicts and “disorderly conducts.” And let’s be frank about the last. In order to get a cop interested in your conduct in this day and age, you pretty well have to defecate on the sidewalk. It’s awful. And the Morning News allows it.

Of course, just to be fair, I also checked the 1,000-foot radius around the offices of the Dallas Observer. In that same period, we had eight actual crimes, less than a fourth of what the News had. And we had none of this terrible drug and alcohol mayhem that the News seems to be tolerating on its own turf. I can only hope they are not encouraging it by participating themselves, though if that were the case, you'd think the area around the Observer's office would have a lot more crime.

In their editorial, the News went after another of their favorite whipping boys, the famous Jim’s Car Wash on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in South Dallas, now closed by the city. The car wash is in a high-crime area, so not surprisingly the 1,000-foot circle around it had a pretty high number of crimes in July.

Almost four times as many drug incidents occurred there as near the News, but there were no booze-related arrests at all near the car wash, compared with 12 near the News. Overall, the car wash area had fewer crimes than the area around the News — a total of 33 near the car wash versus 38 near the News.

Just to cover my bases, I also checked my own address. Even though I live in the inner city quite close to a lot of urban poverty and middle-class bad behavior, I am proud to say my own concentric circle ranked equal with the circle around the Observer, at only eight criminal events for the month.

Is it mere coincidence that the area around my home and the area around my work share exactly the same low rate of criminal activity? Oh, who really knows? I will say this: I don’t put up with foolishness.

And at this point in the conversation, please allow me to take a more direct tone in addressing this phenomenon of suing business owners for not reducing crime in their areas. Whenever I see the city suing a business owner, whenever the Morning News cheering section chimes in, it’s either the only white guy on MLK, or it’s some business owner whose last name is Patel, Mahmoud, Bhatti — something distinctly non-Anglo-Saxon-sounding.

Is that a total coincidence? Let’s review some of the underlying reality here. After vilifying members of the police force for trying to collect their pensions and savings accounts, our great city leaders now find themselves hundreds of officers short and unable to maintain adequate numbers.

Response times are flat-out terrible, surprise, surprise. Violent crime, though not as bad as in many other major cities, feels like it’s headed in that direction. And the neighborhoods are restless.

If it were not for these dire circumstances, the city could have sent people out to interview the owners of the car wash and the Texaco and asked, “What can we do to reduce the crime that is plaguing your business?”

The answers would have involved several approaches, including active efforts by the business owners to help combat lawlessness in their vicinities. The car wash owner over a period of a decade spent large sums of money and did every single thing the city asked him to do.

The problem is that none of those approaches can solve crime in absence of a strong police presence, and the city does not have a strong police presence to offer. The Dallas Police Force is still highly professional but severely undermanned and suffering from terrible morale. And the neighborhoods are still restless. So what’s a City Hall to do?

When the News sent city columnist Robert Wilonsky out to investigate the Texaco, he asked a city prosecutor why the city was going after the owner. The prosecutor told him, “Because when you talk to citizens in the community, the first thing that comes up is, ‘What are you going to do about the Texaco?’”
The city forced the owner of Jim's Car Wash on MLK in South Dallas to shut down, claiming he had not done  enough to fight crime. - JIM SCHUTZE
The city forced the owner of Jim's Car Wash on MLK in South Dallas to shut down, claiming he had not done enough to fight crime.
Jim Schutze
And there you have it. The city manager and the city attorney think they’ve got to do something to keep the neighborhoods happy. They’re not going to go after 7-Eleven or Sonic or Wendy’s, because those chains have deep pockets and high-dollar lawyers behind them.

But mainly the News needs to post large obtrusive signs at all entrances to its property saying, “NO PROSTITUTION.”

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To keep the neighborhoods from complaining too much to the City Council, the city manager and the city attorney sic city lawyers on what they assume will be low-hanging fruit, immigrant owners and little guys who won’t know how to fight back or won’t have the resources. And they know in doing it they’ll have The Dallas Morning News editorial page (not Wilonsky) to give them cover.

It’s low-hanging fruit for the city, but it’s something else, too, at the Morning News end — sheer, narrow, bigoted, self-serving myopia.

My little deal with the crime zones is not mere snark. OK, it’s mostly snarky. But based on my 100 years in the newspaper business, let me tell you what else is going on. A basic, Journalism 101, garden variety conversation should have happened at the very first editorial meeting where this came up: “Hey, before we jump with both feet on this guy who owns the Texaco station for allowing too much crime in his area, hadn’t we better take a look at our own backyard?”

Like I say, it’s easy. The city provides an interactive map. You don’t have to be Woodward and Bernstein. And do you think for one minute the News would have plunged into the Texaco station story that way had they known they have twice the crime problem right outside their front door? But not even thinking to ask the question, not having even that much modesty or skepticism about their own agenda tells us something important about the Morning News editorial page: It’s narrow. It’s smug. And it’s stupid.

I ran the numbers by Dale Davenport, who owns the car wash, and he had several pointers he wanted to offer the News. Based on what the city and a judge have told him he must do at the car wash, Davenport said the News needs to erect a tall perimeter fence around its property and hire deputized two-person security squads to patrol behind the fences 24/7.

Davenport also called on the paper to install huge lights to illuminate all persons attempting to enter the building after dark. But mainly he said the News needs to post large, obtrusive signs at all entrances to its property saying, “NO PROSTITUTION.”

Davenport has never had prostitution at all at his car wash, but the city, nevertheless, has insisted he warn his clientele not to try it. He has concluded that warning people not to do any prostitution must have some larger crime-fighting effect of which the city is aware. He thinks the News might be able to cut down on some of its drunk and rowdy crime problem by warning its visiting clients not do any hooking while they’re on the grounds. Just to keep things even.
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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze