Monday, March 26, 2007

Taking the long view on battling crime

According to recent polling data gathered by The Dallas Morning News, the number one concern on the minds of Dallas voters as they approach the mayoral election?


Not much new there, I'd say.

Over the past several years Dallas has received lots of bad news concerning its national ranking as a leading center for urban criminal activity. One report called Dallas the nation's most dangerous city. Crime statistics have not been going down around town over the past decade, that's for sure.

Naturally, folks from every quarter and sector of the city are concerned about public safety.

It is sort of amusing to watch and to listen to the candidates react so quickly to the latest information about voters' concerns and thoughts.

What to do about crime?

Just about every candidate, with the exception of Dallas City Council Member Don Hill, has laid out aggressive plans for beefing up the size and quality of the Dallas Police Department. One candidate is even talking about, God forbid (!), increases in sales or property taxes to fund the force growth. Others claim that the economic growth of the city can handle the cost of the additional officers that the city needs.

Dallas probably does need more officers on its force.

But, I think Mr. Hill is correct when he argues that the most viable, sustainable, high-impact way to really "take a bite out of crime"will involve the city in addressing issues not normally associated with crime at all.

Want to reduce crime and criminal activity in the city? Consider these steps that take the longer view:

1) Commit significant, continuing public funds, that in turn leverage private investment dollars, to comprehensive, strategic economic development in the poorest parts of the city. The level of funds needed will not be in the tens of millions, but in the hundreds of millions in the near term with total investments beyond the billions over the next two decades.

Part of the plan would include a genuine and thoroughly robust land bank nested in the City's Department of Housing. The Office of Economic Development would also be strengthened beyond recognition as it now exists. Tax incentives of every kind would be utilized to the fullest extent possible from start to finish in the process of targeting low-income, high-crime neighborhoods.

2) Require mixed income developments and affordable, workforce housing "set asides" for every new development in more affluent parts of the city. Payments into the City's housing trust fund in lieu of the required set asides should be a limited option for developers.

Retail development in the "easier," wealthier parts of town would be contingent on comparable development in the "harder," poorer sections of town. The development of grocery stores in the "food deserts" of Dallas would be mandated and developed strategically with the City even issuing RFPs for their construction.

3) Surround our public school system with the support, resources, accountability and unyielding attention provided by a new partnership drawn from across the city, involving every public and civic institution.

4) Develop and market a new, aggressive and appropriate range of workforce development opportunities so that labor in Dallas could actually rise to a skill set level that commands a livable wage.

5) Add additional police officers to the force while shifting the focus of their work to "community policing" that includes the proliferation of police store fronts and coordination of efforts with the Community Prosecutors initiative. At the same time, expand the Community Prosecutors program.

6) Add much needed staff to the city's Code Enforcement Department. Attention to quality of life issues in our poorer neighborhoods will have a positive, long term impact on crime.
Dollars invested to improve the lives of all of our citizens will have a greater, longer lasting effect on crime than by focusing all of our attention on punitive measures. By targeting the city's high crime "hot spots" for these investments, our community will realize great returns both now and over the longer term.


Becky said...

This is why YOU should have run for mayor. You look at how to turn things around from the inside out, for the long-term. Beefing up the police force just deals with the crime that is already out there but does nothing to stop the factors that drive people to crime in the first place.

Daniel Gray said...

I think I heard there's a write-in slot on the ballot...


Justin said...

You have to consider, though, that if you forced developers to develop in areas where they don't think they can make a profit, in order to develop elsewhere, they might just move to another county all together. It sounds good, and I agree that attacking poverty and the structures that cause it will alleviate crime, but you can't force people to do things in a free society. You can only force them so long as they can still reach the profit margins they need to continue their business. I imagine, if you enforced that idea, developers would move out of dallas's jurisdiction, which would chase the have's even further away from the have nots.

Raising taxes to pay for police isn't the answer either. That will drive away wealthier citizens who are shouldering the majority of the tax burden.

I don't know the answers. I don't think they are simple.


Larry James said...

Justin, thanks for the post.

You are correct. The issues are complex. I don't agree though that a completely unfettered free market approach is our only option. If the margins in the "easier" sections are attractive enough and if the city itself becomes more attractive, as in the Downtown area for example, the leverage on developers will increase.

The pressure release valve, if you will, of paying fees into a housing trust fund will need to be employed in some cases. But the City can leverage retail developers in some of the harder areas if it has the political will. It has happened Downtown and it can happen elsewhere.

The other reality is that retailers, like grocery stores, will produce much better than most developers anticipate once on the ground--the need is so great. They just aren't willing to take the added risk or put up with the unique challenges of development to get the projects done.

The answers are complex, for sure. But the also are somewhere other than simple free market only solutions.

Daniel Gray said...

“…poverty has no causes. Only prosperity has causes. Analogically, heat is a result of active processes; it has causes. But cold is not the result of any processes; it is only the absence of heat. Just so, the great cold of poverty and economic stagnation is merely the absence of economic development. It can be overcome only if the relevant economic processes are in motion.”
Jane Jacobs
The Economy of Cities

Anonymous said...

Every single one of the ideas that were mentioned are outstanding. I have no doubt that every one of them could make a great impact on the level of crime. However, we have a hard enough time just gaining more officers, or additional lawyers for the DA, etc. Do you really think that it is even possible to put all of these highly complicated as well as incredibly expensive ideas into action? Don't get me wrong, i would love it if every one of those ideas were put into practice across the entire country, but i don't think it's even possible on the city scale

Larry James said...

Anonymous, thanks for your post.

You are correct. This would not be easy. But, solutions, real soulutions are never easy. With leadership comes movement.

When you break down these ideas, they actually are not that much more expensive than what we will end up doing anyway. It is just a different take on the problems. The fundamental difference is the belief that every part of our community is worthy of investment and quality of life development.

Politics and public policy are all about the "art of the possible." The reason why things like this seem so impossible is not so much because they are--after all, these approaches are working in other cities; rather they seem impossible because we have no true "artists" in community development leading the way for us.