On Monday evening, more than 200 residents of Downtown Dallas got together for a hastily arranged safety meeting at The Woolworth restaurant after the recent attack on a woman in a parking garage. Later that evening, dozens of those attendees began sharing a video clip from the local NBC affiliate in which John Crawford, CEO of Downtown Dallas Inc (DDI) insinuated that the crime issues are a perception of the residents. In turn, residents were livid by his remarks due in large part to the flippant and dismissive manner in which he stated them during the interview; Crawford opted to not attend the safety meeting in person.
The safety meeting was the result of extensive mainstream media coverage in recent days after the vicious attack on Sarah Hoff in the parking garage of The Davis Building in which she resides. Hoff had already parked and was wrapping a phone call when the two thugs jumped into her car and physically attacked her with several punches; they then stole her belongings and car and left her bleeding on the parking garage floor.
Tensions among downtown residents had already been escalating in recent months with the increase in aggressive panhandling, the homeless in Tent City, and the use of the drug K2. Further complicating issues is that there is not one law enforcement agency in charge of all of downtown; it is primarily handled by the Dallas Police Department and DART’s own police force. One of the main challenges is that DPD and DART do not utilize the same reporting system so crimes that are perpetuated at a DART station may not show up on DPD’s records.
DPD Chief Lawton informed the residents at the meeting that Dallas Police, DART, and the police force for the Dallas County Community College District had monthly meetings in which they analyzed “hot spots” on a map and generally compared notes on trends; he stated that as of Monday evening, there have been no trends that have developed recently. What was not clarified is if the three law enforcement agencies are not sharing a centralized system, how are they able to determine that there are no current trends developing. Neither DART nor DCCCD had representatives in attendance at the public safety meeting.
DDI was represented by Kourtny Garrett and Shalissa Perry who tried to appease the crowd by stating they were listening and making notes on the concerns after an hour-long Q&A session. Garrett said that they were updating the Downtown 360 plan with an estimated update to take place in the autumn of 2016 and they were working with Oncor to ensure lights were installed and working along the freeway underpasses between Downtown and Deep Ellum. They also shared that they were sending a survey out to the management of downtown buildings regarding safety.
The general tone from the attendees after the meeting was that they knew the true decision makers were not before them at the podium. Yet, it was overwhelmingly evident that the downtown residents are educated and passionate to get the tide turned in a positive direction immediately. While the residents see the potential in downtown and wish to remain for the foreseeable future, they are no longer interested in hearing about multi-year plans or committees that are studying situations.
For some people, the hot issue is to implement a volunteer patrol to simply make their presence known to the panhandlers and petty thieves that they are watching and calling 911 to report any infraction. For others, it’s the concept of downtown being used as a dumping ground for freshly released prisoners. And then there is the situation with the downtown-based homeless shelter known as The Bridge. While the shelter is known for being very efficient at their work by getting the homeless onto benefits, they are woefully lacking at being a good neighbor to the downtown residents and the surrounding neighborhoods.
The hundreds of residents at the safety meeting were far from appeased as they headed for their homes after the meeting and then they began sharing the video clips from the news affiliates after the 10:00 p.m. broadcasts. When the comments by DDI’s Crawford were aired — showing a demeanor that came across as flippant and dismissive of the resident’s concerns– he might as well had tried to put out a fire with gasoline:
“Welcome to the big city,” said Crawford in the interview. “I mean Dallas is a big city.”
“John Crawford runs the Downtown Dallas Inc. He says downtown’s population has exploded over the last few years and while crime happens, it’s statistically uncommon,” said the reporter in a voice over.
“It’s not rampant,” said Crawford. “Certainly when something happens downtown it’s magnified about 200 percent, typically, but this is a very unusual thing.”
Residents were immediately on social media platforms expressing their anger and frustration that a person who claims to speak on behalf of the downtown community was so out of touch with what has been transpiring.
“Coward. Arrogant. Time to amp up efforts,” said Cody Marx Bailey, a downtown resident when asked what he thought of Crawford’s interview. “None of the players that can actually affect the change we desire were there at the safety meeting. They sent their underlings to come in and attempt to appease us.”
According to DDI’s website, the mission of the organization is to be the principal advocate, champion, and steward of Downtown and claim that their areas of focus include public safety. It is worth noting that their mission and areas of focus reference year 2014 so if any areas of focus have changed in the past two years, it may not be updated on their website.
DDI is predominately comprised of members that are banks, law firms, and realty companies. According to their website they also have the Downtown Residents Council and encourage interested persons to engage with them on their Facebook page; however, the administrators of the Facebook page are well known to heavily censor the content and are quick to remove and ban members that tend to bring up safety concerns or ask more pressing questions. With actions such as these, it’s clear how so many residents feel that DDI is not in touch with the real issues that are plaguing the downtown area.