The tabloid Dallas Observer bangs another one out of the park with its ongoing coverage of the corruption and incompetence of the Dallas police force. What’s fascinating in this rendition of the age-old story of extortion and protection rackets is the way this one operates out in the open, in the light of day.
Dallas has quite a crime problem in some of its neighborhoods – enormous amounts of violent crime orbiting the black market drug trade. Because people in the drug trade don’t give a crap about laws making it illegal, such laws are understandably less than efficacious in getting rid of the black market and its ills. Thus, with impeccable legislative logic, since criminals aren’t deterred by the law, our betters decided that laws imposing penalties on law-abiding people, such as the owners of property where the criminals live or hang-out, might have some effect. The so-called “nuisance law” was born, and one of the more astonishing tales of unintended consequences of the law began. If you have a business in a bad neighborhood, and you call the cops over and over again reporting crime, you are not likely to get a timely and effective response from a police force that claims to be overburdened.
Khraish Khraish and his father own single-family rental properties in South and West Dallas. He caught some guys hauling stuff out of one of their properties on Canal Street, southeast of Fair Park, less than a mile from Edmondson’s properties.
“I confronted these people, who were stealing appliances out of my house. I said, ‘I want you to stop.’”
No. Not stop. They attacked him instead, for irritating them.
“I literally called 911 as I was being assaulted,” Khraish tells me. “I’m telling her, ‘They’re running after me! They’ve got me!’ I was screaming as this was happening.”
He got loose and outran them. They gave up the chase, went back and finished hauling off his appliances. He returned to his property and sat there on the stoop, waiting for the police to come. For hours.
“No one ever came,” he said. “That’s a typical story. That’s what happens out here.”
No, you will instead get a visit from the cops telling you that you are the problem, for calling 911 so much, and that you will be fined and possibly lose your business if you keep it up, because the volume of 911 calls from your property proves that your property is a “nuisance” subject to penalties under the law. (Note how “public nuisance” has been redefined from “property that is a haven for crime” to “business owner who bothers the police too much.”)
That’s when the police department’s “Nuisance Abatement” or “Safe Team” comes calling. They lay it out. Look at all these 911 calls, Sam. All from your building. You know what? Your building is turning into a nuisance abatement problem. We may have to turn you over to the city attorney for a nuisance abatement lawsuit. Then you’re going to have to hire a lawyer, run up a lot of bills. I don’t know, these 911 calls are really starting to look like a problem, aren’t they?
Wait. Stop. That’s not the punch line yet. Here’s the punch line–a line I have heard now from several property owners, a line that was repeated again and again in the hearings in Austin. You know what the real punch line is? I have it on my desk.
The rate sheet.
The next thing they hand the owner of a car wash on MLK, or the owner of a major hotel chain, or the owner of refurbished apartment buildings, is the rate sheet for what it costs to hire Dallas police officers to work as security. Off-duty.
Get it? You call 911 too much. You’re making us look bad. We’re going to have to sue you and put you out of business if this keeps up. But, hey. There is a way out of your dilemma. Hire us off-duty. Now you’re not a nuisance anymore. Now you’re our buddy.
And it gets worse. What may well be going on here is that parts of Dallas are being set up for a major urban renewal project. Part of the set-up involves letting things get so bad that only a billion-dollar public works project can save the day.
Dennis Topletz, the chief operating officer of Topletz Investments, said experience has taught him that the city of Dallas usually has an agenda, even if it’s not easy to see. He says the city used tactics similar to what it’s using now in order to force the Topletzes to sell property in the State-Thomas area in the 1980s.
“They threatened us with the RICO statutes then,” he said. “I mean, we’re talking about government. We’re talking about federal. We’re talking about criminal. We’re talking about jail time, unless we would sell them the property under eminent domain.”
He smells a similar but larger agenda behind the wholesale assault on private businesses that the legislative committee discovered when it investigated the misuse of the nuisance law. Somebody wants certain people out of certain neighborhoods, while other people, who are wired to City Hall, qualify for lavish grants and subsidies instead.
I feel sure that, from the inside of the Dallas administration, this all looks perfectly logical (thus the phrase “the banality of evil”). But from the outside, it stinks like day-old fish in the hot Texas sun.