There is good news to be found in the city's crime stats. For the ninth year in a row, Dallas is on pace to see a drop in its crime rate and, while violent crime is about flat, burglary and theft are down by 15 and 11 percent, respectively.
The improving numbers are partly tied to a drop in crime nationwide over the past decade and partly, as the Dallas Police Department is quick to highlight, to smarter policing. DPD is more reluctant to trumpet the other reason: it's massaging its crime stats.
Over the weekend, the Morning News crunched some numbers for instances of petty theft both before and after DPD changed its reporting policy on Jan. 5. Under the new rules, officers don't respond to shoplifting offenses under $50. Instead, business owners are instructed to go online, print out a form, and mail it, as in through the U.S. Postal Service, to DPD.
The News found just about what you'd expect them to find:
"The reports plummeted Jan. 5," the paper wrote. "That's exactly the day the new reporting policy took effect.
"Before that date minor shoplifting offenses averaged about 10 a day. Immediately afterward, that average fell to fewer than three a day."
Now, achieving a 70-percent drop in shoplifting in a single day would be impossible, at least without some sort of divine intervention. ("Chief Brown gathered the shoplifters before him on the banks of the Trinity and said 'Lo, repent shoplifters and follow the letter of the law.' And it was so."). Absent that, it seems pretty cut and dry that someone's goosing the numbers.
Not so, DPD says. Brown credited the drop to good, old-fashioned police work and the creation of a retail theft task force targeting fencing operation through which shoplifters turn their stolen merchandise into cash. When the Morning News asked how this could be, seeing as the task force didn't really start making arrested until several months after shoplifting stats plummeted.
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"We just don't agree with your assertions or analysis of what happened and the timeing of what happened," he told the paper via email. "We began arresting more thieves immediately at the beginning of this year and building cases that took several weeks to file but had an almost immediate impact on theft and burglary."
In other words, there really was a miracle of Biblical proportions.
Brown doubled down on the miracle-talk yesterday at a meeting of the City Council's Public Safety Committee. The drop in crime was the result of good police work, not a change in reporting policy. And, by the way, did he mention that they'd busted up 70 fencing operations this year?
There's a valid argument to be made that shifting DPD's focus from individual cases of petty theft to the fencing operations that make it profitable is good policy. Putting in place bureaucratic hurdles to discourage people from reporting crime is not, and Brown needs to stop pretending.