How safe is our city? Dallas crime picture mixed despite recent uptick

Exerpts from the Dallas Morning News article published 4/25/2021

This article is part of our State of the City project, in which The Dallas Morning News explores the most critical issues facing our communities. The first series focuses on public safety.

In one of the last homicides of 2020, 32-year-old Isaac Mozeke was shot by an unknown gunman while taking an evening walk to a convenience store.

This seemingly random act of violence occurred on a corner in one of the most violent neighborhoods of Dallas — one that has been a pervasive problem for decades in a city that is struggling to find answers to a recent uptick in violent crime.

It is one of the reasons why, though they have to deal with a global pandemic that left thousands of residents out of work and birthed a housing crisis, Dallas city leaders still consider public safety a top barometer of the state of this city.

Murders and aggravated assaults began trending upward in 2015 after years of steady declines, with a spike over the past two years, according to a Dallas Morning News analysis.

But in Dallas, the overall crime picture is actually mixed — with encouraging decreases in the rates of some crimes given the city’s growth, but also some neighborhoods where the problem seems intractable. Much of the city’s violent crime has been prevalent in small geographic areas — many of the same spots since at least 2009 — where police have zeroed in on tackling the issue.

After the last homicide spike in 2004 when there were 248 murders, the city’s population grew nearly 17% to about 1.4 million in 2019, when the number of murders reported was 196.

In that time, because of population growth, the homicide rate decreased. In 2004, the rate was 20.2 murders per 100,000 residents, according to crime data reported to the FBI. In 2019, the most recent year for which FBI figures are available, it was 14. Last year’s figures have not been reported to the FBI. The Dallas Morning News compiled its own 2020 crime map.

To get a handle on crime, police have focused on specific geographic areas — which are often about a square mile and are located throughout the city — that have generated the most persistent crime for decades.

“You’ll see the same red spots over and over,” said former Deputy Chief Malik Aziz, who spent 29 years with the Dallas Police Department and oversaw crime reduction plans since 2004.

“The only thing you can explain is that wherever you meet dire stretches of poverty, or unemployment, where you can’t make a living wage to live or survive, then you put together a recipe for disaster.”

After 2004, murders and aggravated assaults dropped fairly consistently until about a decade later, when they began trending up again. The city is still far below its peak of 500 murders in 1991 as the crack epidemic fueled violence. That year, the murder rate was 48.6 per 100,000 people. By 2004, it was less than half that.

Robberies showed some declines after 2004 until they started increasing in 2016. But even with 4,400 robberies in 2019, they were still 41% lower than in 2004.

Aggravated assaults between 2004 and 2019 went in waves, with 2019 seeing the most pronounced annual upswing at 6,369 incidents — up about 17% from the previous year, but still down compared with 7,863 in 2004.

Property crimes saw the most dramatic declines during that 15-year span, dropping by nearly half to 45,279 incidents in 2019. Those crimes — which include burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson — did tick up 2% from 2018 to 2019 even though the population increased less than 1%.

With an unprecedented public health crisis, Dallas was not alone among major metro areas in seeing homicides trend up over the past two years.

Hot-spot policing has been one of the department’s most consistent crime-fighting tools in that span. Murders dropped to historic lows in the wake of its implementation. In 2014, police reported 116 murders. Since then, violent crime has gradually increased. According to data compiled by Dallas police, there were 252 homicides in Dallas in 2020.

In far northeast Dallas, the intersection of Forest Lane and Audelia Road accounts for a high number of aggravated assaults. In southern Dallas, areas like Westmoreland Road in Oak Cliff, St. Augustine Drive and Bruton Road in Pleasant Grove, and the neighborhood just east of Julius Schepps Freeway (Interstate 45) in South Dallas have seen more violence than other parts of the city.

In the last budget cycle, the Dallas City Council voted to reallocate about $7 million from the Police Department’s overtime budget to other public safety initiatives, such as street lighting. Council member Adam Bazaldua, who represents South Dallas, which has a cluster of TAAG areas, said the investment in lighting has reduced crime.

“As much as there was political backlash when the budget amendment occurred, there were moves that were made and are showing success,” he said.

Records show the department has about 3,100 officers, an improvement from 2019 when it nearly went below 3,000 officers, but still far from its 3,690 officers in 2011. DPD says its recruitment efforts improved after the council voted to increase starting pay, which put Dallas in line with surrounding cities. A staffing audit of the department found that it needed to deploy officers more efficiently but did not recommend a staffing level.

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