Dangers on a Train: Crime Goes Down Everywhere Except on DART

Wait a minute. The Dallas Morning News today publishes a story in which the top cop in the local transit agency gets away with blaming the economy and too much bling for a sharp increase in robberies and other crimes on the light rail system.

Did anybody think to point out to DART police Chief James Spiller that the same economy is producing a record drop in crime rates for the city at large? Hmm? Would have been something interesting to ask.

Maybe some extra-intrepid reporter could have asked Spiller if he is familiar with about 20 years of criminological/sociological research showing that crime is not a response to economic instability.

People don't say, "Normally I'm a barber, but lately times have gotten so tough that I've switched to carjacking." The same people carjack in good times and bad, because the same people like carjacking.

But here's the part of The News story that really stabbed me in the heart:

In addition, the Green Line's opening last December introduced new riders who aren't used to mass transit, creating new opportunities for criminals, he [Spiller] said. Thieves and robbers have been looking for high-value items that are easy to grab and easy to sell, he said.
It's our fault. Here we are thinking we can parade around in public using cell phones and tablet computers, when we should realize that such behavior is suicide by iPad.

Taken to its logical extension, this line of reasoning says, "Don't come on our train talking on your smartphone like Mr. Big Shot and then start bitching later when you get stabbed in the eyeball for it."

Last March, Robert Wilonsky posted that home movie you see above made by DART warning people not to cause robberies of themselves by leaving valuable objects "loosely lying around." But the movie opens with a scene in which a lady gets her cell phone snatched while she's talking on it.

I don't consider talking on my cell phone the same as leaving it loosely lying around. In fact, if I can't talk on my cell phone when I want to, I do not want to have a cell phone.

Made me think: An even more useful bad home movie from DART might be an instructional film on how to duct-tape your cell phone to your head before getting on a DART train. They could show a lot of school kids with their backpacks properly chained and locked to their wrists.

I wasted a bunch of time this morning drilling through DART's financials on their web page trying to find out what they spend on cops. They have the cop number lumped in with other unlikely expenditures like real estate. The only hard number I could find was the total size of the force: 373.

If we take what I think is a very conservative estimate for the cost of those employees annually, at about 50 grand a year apiece, then we would come out with an annual police personnel cost of about $18.6 million. I have a question in to DART's public relations people to see if they can come up with a better number for me.

But meanwhile, what about this? If crime on DART trains is soaring, as Spiller reports, while rate are falling citywide, what if we consider the possibility that we need a new chief of police at DART?

Or even better: Abolish the DART police department and turn enforcement over to the Dallas Police Department, which has crime rates on the run.

But that wouldn't work, because the real purpose of the DART police department is to show up when a DART bus rams your car in the rear-end and write a report saying it was your fault for failure to defensively accelerate while driving a fancy car.

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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