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Dallas Says Local Antiviolence Moves, Hot Spots Policing Work




On a frigid February afternoon this year, fighting violent crime brought Victor Alvelais to a crime scene in the southern part of Dallas. A few weeks earlier, a gunman shot through a fence and wounded five children at an apartment complex.


Within two days, Alvelais was there. The director of Dallas Cred, a violence intervention group, who himself served nearly 30 years in prison for a homicide, he’d already been meeting with two teenage brothers who live there, talking them out of picking up their own weapons and getting revenge.


Now, with three other members of Dallas Cred, each of whom are wearing the organization’s bright-orange T-shirts, they coax the brothers onto a porch outside their ground-floor apartment. The visitors admonish the younger brother for picking up an assault charge. They ask him to let them know when he has a court date so they can talk to the judge. 


Since 2021, Dallas has been taking approaches like violence intervention to make the city’s efforts to fight violent crime more effective. Relying on “trusted messengers,” violence intervention programs seek to build community relationships that address violent crime before it happens.


Cities such as Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, and others have included such programs in their law enforcement budgets, with each asking, can law enforcement evolve to be more of a community effort?, reports the Christian Science Monitor.


Those at Dallas Cred believe it must. “[The police’s] responsibility is to react to a crime, arrest the perpetrator, and leave,” says Alvelais. “They can’t be in the midst of the communities trying to eradicate this way of thinking, or prevent any sort of retaliation once it happens.”


“Violence is an effect; it’s not the cause” of crime, says Untruan Grant, another member of the group. “Really, nobody wants to be in trouble, but sometimes we feel like that’s the only resort. We’re giving them other resorts to be able to take, and that’s by counting on us.”


In Dallas and other cities in Texas, efforts to include the wider community in addressing violent crime are just one part of a major rethinking about law enforcement. Criminologists and policymakers in the Lone Star State have been in the process of initiating new multiyear and multipronged approaches to law enforcement, drawing on 50 years of research into evolving policing techniques.


Their new approaches have included embracing what have been controversial ideas of “hot spots policing.” In a technique pioneered in Minneapolis and exemplified by New York City’s CompStat program in the 1990s, police first meticulously map crime patterns throughout the city and then focus their resources on areas in which violent crimes occur most often.


They’ve also begun to include another technique pioneered in New York: “broken windows policing.” Also a decades-old strategy, this kind of policing includes removing signs of disorder and blight as officers aggressively target minor crimes like vandalism and loitering. The theory is that a focus on smaller problems helps prevent more serious violence and mayhem.


Both techniques have been contested by critics who point out that this kind of policing often floods Black and Latino neighborhoods with police, placing them under much more intense scrutiny and causing conflict and inequities. 


In Dallas and other cities in Texas, officials say they are trying to avoid the mistakes of the past. “It won’t necessarily be all police,” says Robert Blanton, an assistant chief with the San Antonio Police Department. “It’s much more comprehensive than the hot spots [idea]. ... These are going to be much more thoughtful, or active, issues.”


After the program launched in 2021, violent crime dropped 53% in the hot spots and 14% citywide in the first six months. San Antonio, which started the plan last year, reported a 44% drop in violent crime in hot spots.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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