Lorne Ahrens. Mike Smith. Michael Krol. Patrick Zamarippa.
They are the four Dallas officers who gave their lives trying to make Dallas safer. But after a year, is it better?
“No, no way. Not even close,” says Sgt. Mike Mata, president of the Dallas Police Association. “You see it already. Violent crime is shooting through the roof.”
The department had already started its downward spiral before David Brown retired in October after more than six years as chief. Now more than 400 officers have quit in the last twelve months. Violent crime's up eight percent through the end of May. In that time, there’s been a 20 percent jump in aggravated assaults.
“You have officers who are working double shifts because we don't have enough officers on the streets,” he said. “But right now, their heads are spinning. They haven't had time to heal. I don’t know how much more I can tell these officers, just hang on. Just hang in there. It’s going to get better.”
Crime victims are waiting a long time now for police to arrive. Just recently, an elderly M Streets homeowner was robbed and held at gunpoint in his home. He waited nearly an hour and half. A teenager pistol was whipped. He waited 90 minutes for the cops to arrive.
“After he bent my finger back, he said this is not a joke. I will shoot you,” said Kevin Crockett, 14.
The department gets close to meeting its eight-minute response time goal for serious crimes. But the average for that next tier of calls, which is things like robberies that have already occurred, take more than 20 minutes for cops to get there. The goal is 12 minutes.
The response times for even lower priority calls is even worse.
“It's pretty frustrating especially when you have to get there and the first thing you got to do is begin to apologize for the long wait time,” says Senior Cpl. Herb Ebsen, a 33-year-veteran who works southwest third watch. “If there’s no officers to answer the calls, we can’t get there.”
Police are making inroads in the fight against crime in one area of Dallas.
The department added more than 20 officers from the southwest and south central patrol stations to the Red Bird neighborhood in January 2016. The officers are specifically assigned to answer calls and take care of problems in that area.
The officers are based out of Southwest Center Mall in the Red Bird Outreach Center.
“We just needed to jump start the area,” said Assistant Chief Paul Stokes, who oversees the city’s seven patrol stations.
News 8 tagged along as the team responded to a report of someone shot at a Red Bird complex. They converged on the area within two minutes. They quickly found that no one had been shot after all.
Tiffany Williams, who joined the force three years ago, says people in the neighborhood know who they are and as a result, they have a better rapport with them.
“It’s not just about enforcement,” Williams said. “It’s about engagement.”
Some of it involves taking care of quality of life issues, such as missing crosswalks, missing stop signs or unlit street lights. They are taking a page from the “broken windows” policing theory.
“We have seen crime reduced just by having officers on a regular basis patrolling nothing but this area,” says Senior Cpl. Laura Johnson.
Curtis Corbins, who runs a transportation company out of the mall that helps people get to jobs, says the officers frequently send people they encounter his way. He sees the benefit of the community seeing the same group of officers.
“They see the consistency and consistency pays,” he says. “You know it makes a world of difference.”
Darla Shirley, executive director of Youth World, also has seen the improvement since the team began consistently working the area.
“You can see their heart towards the community,” she said. “We can say officer come up on stage and do this and they will.”
She worries that the manpower-strapped department won’t be able to keep it up.
“I think that would be pretty tragic,” Shirley says. “I hope they realize how much they are needed here and the impact they are having.”
What is happening in Red Bird is a glimmer of hope, but only just a glimmer.
DPD doesn’t have the manpower to take that type of beat policing city-wide. And DPD officials say they can’t replace officers assigned to the Red Bird team who leave or quit.
“They’ll have to figure out how to do more with less and figure out how to deliver the same customer service to the community,” Stokes said.
Manpower shortages are forcing hard choices on the department. They are trying to fill in some of the gaps with overtime. Other patrol officers who typically do more proactive policing to try to stop crimes before they happen are now being tasked to ask calls. Many detective positions are going unfilled.
“You can only lose so many before it comes a major crisis,” Ebsen says. “The danger when the shortage become so critical is that we become call and report takers rather than getting out and aggressively trying to deal with the criminal element.”
There are no quick fixes to the manpower shortage. It takes more than a year to fully train a cop.
“The problems are getting bigger and bigger,” Mata says. “The only way we can fix this is to get more officers here.”
They are big problems that a new chief – whoever he or she is – will be called upon to try to fix. They clearly have their work cut out for them.
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