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Do Placards and Fines Help Stop Crime? The City Seems To Think So.

Even though they took efforts to reduce crime, the city is cracking the whip on CMW Realty, a local property owner, for allegedly hosting habitual criminal activity.EXPAND
Even though they took efforts to reduce crime, the city is cracking the whip on CMW Realty, a local property owner, for allegedly hosting habitual criminal activity.
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The site of a tattoo parlor, convenience store and a Baptist church is getting the scarlet letter: a city designation as a “habitual criminal property.” Soon, placards will be posted at 4110 W. Camp Wisdom in Dallas labeling the property as such.

The designation is part of the enforcement of a nuisance abatement ordinance the city passed in 2017. The essential goals of these kinds of ordinances are to get property owners and the community involved in reducing crime and to hold parties that tolerate habitual crime accountable. Getting slapped with this designation basically means you didn't do your part in helping the Dallas Police Department prevent crime on your property.

CMW Realty, the owner of the property, seemingly did its best to help the police do their job after being handed a preliminary designation as a habitual criminal property. Evidently, the property owner's best wasn't good enough, as they failed to successfully appeal a final designation before the Permit and License Board at a hearing last week.

None of the tenants at the property responded to requests for comment.

As for the crime fighting, it's not clear just how affective handing out these designations has been over the last three years, as violent crime rates remain high and the number of homicides in the city is the highest it's been in a long time.

But WFAA compared crime statistics from other alleged habitual criminal properties, like Jim’s Car Wash and a Texaco at 11770 Ferguson Road, and found that there was a decrease in the total reported criminal incidents when the businesses were shut down.

Even so, the city's nuisance abatement enforcement has received much scrutiny over the years. In 2006, the Texas House General Investigative and Ethics Committee looked into the police department's Support Abatement Forfeiture Enforcement (SAFE) Team.

In the report, the committee likened the criminal nuisance abatement program in Dallas to an extortion racket carried out by City Hall. They said the enforcement appeared to be motivated by politics or business competition, alleging that one property would get slammed by DPD, while their neighbors with just as much crime were left alone.

Under the 2017 ordinance, the nuisance abatement process begins after five documented "abatable" criminal activities — in CMW Realty's case, incidents of criminal mischief, marijuana or controlled substance possession, assault with a deadly weapon, and deadly conduct — occur at a property during a 12-month period.

At that point, the property goes under review. The owner or their representative is given a notice to meet with DPD and the Dallas City Attorney's Office to prove they made attempts to reduce crime on their property before the preliminary designation. CMW Realty's appeal last week hinged on this, and they failed to provide such proof.

Instead, the property owner’s attorney Lisa D. Mares argued that they didn’t know the extent of the criminal activity before the preliminary designation and that they were living up to an abatement agreement it made with the city before the final designation.

In an email to the Observer, Warren Mitchell, a Dallas police sergeant, said that representatives for council members Omar Narvaez and Tennell Atkins reached out to community prosecution, a DPD team that collaborates with the city to improve quality of life, citing resident's complaints about crime on the property.

Community prosecution opened a case after they found some 15 abatable offenses took place at the location within the last year. Community prosecutor Chanlor Akins consulted Maj. Vincent Weddington about the inquiry into the location and they both determined that it met the requirements to be designated a preliminary habitual criminal property.

CMW Realty met with the city in August and upon request was given extra time to show they had made reasonable efforts to stop crime. The owner also agreed to take additional steps toward crime reduction when they entered into a nuisance abatement agreement with the city on Sept. 21.

The property owners installed temporary lighting, working to bring their buildings up to code and inquiring about armed security per the advice of DPD. Mares estimated at the hearing that the property owner had met about 95% of the requirements in the agreement.

But, after the owners missed a few deadlines and crime continued to occur at the location, DPD went ahead and gave it a final habitual criminal property designation.

Mares said there were a lot of moving parts to the agreement including contractors, obtaining permits and hiring armed guards to patrol the property and pick up DPD's slack. Mares said the language of the agreement gave some flexibility to the deadlines saying the property owner "will initiate steps or to cause to implement" crime reduction methods. She added that the city was not acting reasonably when they threw out the deal.

Ben Setnick with the Permit and License Board said it was "sneaky" to give the property the final designation having entered into an agreement with the owner. But, he said, the agreement doesn’t list any stipulations that prevent this and the board doesn’t have the authority to enforce the agreement, so Mares would have to make these arguments in the district court.

The board was grateful of the property owner's efforts after the abatement agreement was signed, but it wasn't enough to appeal the final designation. Board members said the property owner was being reactive instead of proactive in combatting crime.

Others on the board said it isn't really fair to ask such a small entity to help make a high crime area safer. In their inquiries about hiring security to patrol the property, CMW Realty was told the area was so dangerous security companies would require the deployment of two armed guards. The property owner said they did not have the money.

Charles Kight, one of the board members, said it’s hard to have a property owner with just three tenants pay for two armed guards to solve what he believes is a societal problem not isolated to this location.

But Setnick said not asking more of property owners and the community is how crime has been allowed to soar.

"The police can show up at the property at any time of the day or night and make an arrest, but that’s not DPD’s job," Setnick said. "If all we have to rely on is DPD to clean up troubled properties, to increase the property owner’s values, then we’ll wind up with what we have."

In the end, the hearing was for naught and the property owner got stuck with a fine of over $3,000, about a third of the monthly rent they receive from the tenant, leaving them with less money and resources to help the city get crime under control, begging the question, "How does this help again?"

If anything, the ruling sends a message to property owners: Even if you try to help combat crime and enter into an agreement with the city to do better, they can still turn around and slap you with a fine and placards that could potentially hurt you in the long run.

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