Crime. It’s just a fact of life in a large city. And certain types of it are on the rise in Dallas. But what about our part of town? Do you know what’s happening on the streets around us?

The Dallas Police Department (DPD) says that could be the most important question in crime prevention today. Crime could be reduced substantially, they say, if we all just paid more attention and took a few simple precautions.

“Police officers alone cannot reduce crime,” says Angela Pardue, Dallas police officer and community relations liaison. “It really takes everybody to make that happen. We need help from all our citizens.”

Crime-Fighting Programs / And since they know they can’t do it alone, police officers are eager to teach residents proactive – and effective – ways to fight neighborhood crime.

Probably the easiest route is to set up and maintain an active crime watch group. In its simplest form, a crime watch group is nothing more than a collection of neighbors keeping an eye out for each other.

Some meet frequently; some have newsletters; many host a hotline residents can call to learn of any crime occurring in the area.

The most important element is that neighbors talk and get to know each other. The better we know our neighbors, the better we’ll know when something suspicious happens. And the more we’ll do things like tell them their garage is open or ask them to pick up our mail. As a bonus, we get a sense of community in the place we live.

Groups wanting to do even more can work with police in establishing one of two community patrol programs: VIP or ENP.

ENP stands for Expanded Neighborhood Patrol, in which off-duty Dallas police officers patrol the neighborhood in a marked police vehicle. Residents contract with the city each year to pay for the additional patrol, with the funds going for the rental of the vehicle and the officers’ hourly pay.

The Preston Hollow North Homeowners Association maintains an ENP.

“It made a huge difference for us,” says Diane Benjamin, the group’s crime watch chair. “We’re fortunate that many of our homeowners are affluent and can afford the cost of added patrol.”

Benjamin says the group was formed in 1992 in the wake of driveway robberies and shootings in the area. Since then, she says, maintaining an ENP has been just part of what they do.

“We’re a proactive group,” she says. “We’ve always recognized that the best weapon against crime is a good neighbor. So we look out for each other.”

Don Waddington, crime watch chair for the Preston Hollow East Homeowners Association, says his neighborhood also uses an ENP and is very happy with the results.

“Starting the ENP helped immediately,” he says. “Crime fell by almost 50 percent in the first year we used it, and it has stayed at those lower levels ever since. The officers also will call if they see an open garage or other potential problem. They’ll even escort neighbors into their homes if asked.”

While an ENP can be highly effective, it also can be very expensive. Currently officers are paid $30 per hour, with the car rental ranging from an additional $3-$30 an hour.

If your crime watch group isn’t willing or able to pay for an ENP, it can always start a VIP, or Volunteers in Patrol, program.

Groups with a VIP program use neighborhood volunteers to patrol their own neighborhoods. They usually work in 2-hour shifts, using their own cars with magnetic signs and an amber light attached. They always have a cell phone, and many have scanners as well.

The Walnut Hill Homeowners Association and crime watch group has a VIP patrol.

“It’s been really good for our neighborhood,” says association president Ross Coulter. “We have two parks in our neighborhood that kids like to hang out at, so we keep an eye on them, too. Volunteers report graffiti, vandalism, even kids skipping school.”

And while Coulter says residents are happy with the results of the program, we bet they’re also happy with its cost. VIP groups pay only for the one-time expense of the vehicle light and magnetic signs. After that, there’s no cost except for volunteers’ time. That’s why Walnut Hill’s voluntary fees haven’t changed since some time in the mid-‘70s: they’re $5 a year.

The best news about VIP patrols, Pardue says, is that the numbers generally show them to be as effective as ENPs.

“It’s really a matter of having someone out there watching,” she says. “If you see someone patrolling the area and reporting crime, whatever kind of car they’re driving, it’ll make you think twice about committing a crime there.”

Common Crimes & Common Sense / We live in one of the safest areas in Dallas. Thankfully, violent crimes here are few and far between. What’s more, the total number of reported crimes in our area fell over the past year.

An easy way to help those numbers keep falling, police say, is just using plain old common sense.

Take the case of auto-related crimes. They make up almost half the total reported crimes in our area and rose in 2002. Most often, they involved items being taken from vehicles rather than vehicles being stolen.

Pardue says those numbers would drop if we’d only protect ourselves a little better.

“Keep your car in a garage if you have one, or in a well-lighted area,” she says. “And don’t leave valuable items like laptops, cell phones or purses in your car. People see them as they pass by and are more tempted to break in.”

And while we may think no one pays attention to auto alarms anymore, Pardue says they help. The same goes for any form of additional protection, such as The Club, a steering wheel locking device.

“It all adds to the psychological deterrence to committing a crime,” she says. “If something looks well protected, be it a house or an auto, it’s more likely to be passed over for one that looks easier to get into.”

General theft is the second most common crime in our area, though the numbers were down a bit from 2001. Basically, theft is defined by the police as when someone takes anything that doesn’t belong to him but doesn’t enter a vehicle, home or business to do it.

Last year, almost 1,100 thefts were reported in our area, nearly 25 percent of the total crimes reported. That means in more than 1,000 instances, someone just picked something up and walked away with it. Items such as bicycles and lawn equipment are often among the things stolen. Seems we should all keep reminding our children, and ourselves, about putting our things away.

The third most frequent crime in our area is burglary of a residence. It made up approximately 10 percent of all reported crime last year, similar to what we saw the year before.

Burglary of a residence, police say, can often be prevented by the simple act of closing our garage doors.

“Most of us leave the garage open as we make trips into the house with groceries,” Pardue says. “But it’s important not to leave a garage door open even for a minute, because a thief can run in and out of your garage in a matter of seconds.”

Worse still, that open door might give thieves access into your home. Police say we can reduce home burglaries by always keeping our doors locked and using an intruder alarm – even during the day, and even if we’re there.

Make the call / Now you know generally what types of crime occur in our area and some ways to help fight crime on a regular basis.

But what do you do if you see something suspicious?

“Call 911,” Pardue says.

“Call 911,” Benjamin says.

“Call 911,” Coulter says.

“Call 911,” Waddington says. “Right away.”

Ask any person involved in crime prevention, and they’ll tell you the same thing. Still, many of us are hesitant to call if we’re not sure a crime is being committed.

Pardue says we shouldn’t be.

“Our dispatchers immediately prioritize our calls, so you don’t have to worry about taking an officer off a more serious call,” she says. “It’s better to have a false alarm than to not report a possible crime, so if you’re concerned about something, call 911.”

And if a burglar approaches you?

“Cooperate,” she says. “Give them what they want, and do what they say.”

When they’re gone…as if we really need to say this again…call 911.

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