Patrolling for peace of mind: Preston Hollow’s longtime fixation with private police forces

Once its own municipality, Preston Hollow’s private police force badges are preserved in the city’s Municipal Archives. (Photo by Rasy Ran)
Once its own municipality, Preston Hollow’s private police force badges are preserved in the city’s Municipal Archives. (Photo by Rasy Ran)

Before Preston Hollow became one of Dallas’ most sought-after neighborhoods, it was its own municipality with a strict set of laws. The city barred public dance halls, using loud speakers and purchasing alcohol in the early 1940s.

Enforcing Preston Hollow’s ever-growing regulations was troublesome, however. In 1941, only one officer patrolled the 2-square-mile town at night, leaving it unprotected during the day, according to archived documents. City officials weren’t persuaded to establish a 24-hour police force until a string of burglaries,  vehicle thefts and a car hijacking rocked the neighborhood.

But not everyone benefitted from those patrols.

Police protection was offered on a subscription basis. The police department charged homeowners at a rate of $2.50 per month or $250 per year.

“Probably but few of our citizens realize the extent of the need for efficient policing in our area,” town council secretary Herbert C. Otis wrote in an undated letter featured in the book “Preston Hollow” by Eva Potter Morgan.

Seventy-two years after Preston Hollow was annexed into Dallas, the neighborhood’s crime rates are some of the lowest in the city. Police reported just two robberies, four aggravated assaults and 31 burglaries during an 11-month period in 2016. By comparison, East Dallas saw 139 robberies, 109 aggravated assaults and 271 burglaries in the same time span.

The low crime rate hasn’t stopped Preston Hollow residents from seeking additional protection, whether that’s through the Dallas Police Department or a private company.

“It’s one of the few neighborhoods that have engaged in private security for a long time,” Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates says.

Seven neighborhoods benefit from Enhanced Neighborhood Protection (ENP). The Dallas Police Department has offered the voluntary program, which brings in an off-duty officer to patrol the neighborhood, since 1991.

Interested residents pay a fee, which covers the officers’ pay and patrol vehicle maintenance, says Rick Watson, deputy chief of the North Central Division. The program’s cost depends on the number of homeowners involved, how many hours the officer works per week and his or her hourly wage, which is privately negotiated with the neighborhood or homeowner’s association.

The expense of an ENP wasn’t feasible for the Meadows Neighborhood Association because of its small size, says Kelley Willis, a neighborhood association board member and crime watch committee chair. The neighborhood contracts with a private firm that they pay monthly instead.

“It just depends on the neighborhood, their needs and what they feel they can afford,” Watson says.

Windsor Park launched its ENP earlier this year and now has roughly 150 members. Families with children and seniors make up the neighborhood, says Igor Jekauc, president of the homeowner association’s ENP.  Many felt uneasy solely relying on security cameras.

“I think, for them, they’re not used to technology,” he says. “They like to see a person.”

Neighbors who opt to participate pay roughly $400 per household, Jekauc says.

The Hillcrest-Forest neighborhood has two programs, the Churchill Way ENP and 5 Star ENP, in addition to 40 hours of security per week from Smith Protective Services.

“It’s all about deterrence. It’s not really about catching people,” says Bruce Wilke, president of the Hillcrest-Forest Neighborhood Association.

The Northaven Park ENP serves more than 300 members in Northaven Park, Royal Hills and Park Forest. When it was established in 2011, residents experienced an average of 10 nonviolent crimes per month, communications director Donna Denise says. That number has decreased to two crimes per month since ENP was enabled. But peace of mind, more than anything, is the program’s largest benefit, she says.

“It’s one thing to react to crime after it happens, but it’s another thing to be proactive and preventing crime where burglars, thieves and mischief-makers can cause problems,” Denise says.

The program also gives officers the opportunity to make extra money within the department, Gates says. Dallas police officers’ base salary ranges from $46,870 to $74,172, according to the department’s website. This is significantly lower than other municipalities, such as Austin, which offers $58,681 to officers upon graduation. The disparity in pay leads some officers to seek additional part-time work.

The ENP program isn’t correlated to employee retention, though, Watson and Mitchell say. Officers who leave Dallas do so because they don’t want to part-time work, not because of opportunities within the department.

The program is beneficial to every neighborhood in Dallas, Mitchell says, regardless of their crime rates.

“We’ve always been low crime, but you can never be too low crime,” Wilke says.

Preston Hollow’s first private police force dates back to the early 1940s. (Photo by Rasy Ran)
Preston Hollow’s first private police force dates back to the early 1940s. (Photo by Rasy Ran)

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