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Public nuisance

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.

20 comments to Public nuisance

  • Matt

    From previous posts here I was of the understanding that crime in texas could be solved at the barrel of a gun!

    All joking aside these kind of problems are clearly becoming serious both sides of the pond leading to a situation where innocent people feel victimised both by the police and the criminal.

    One of the few duties of a state should be to protect its citizens, but this is a duty in which it is clearly failing.

  • jdallen

    An excellent plan! At this rate, the city of Dallas and the state of Texas should have no funding problems at all! And the Californians and Yankees think that us Texans are dumberer than they are.

  • Anthony

    Wow that is a disturbing state of affairs. It’s the all-too-common legislative phenomenon of punishing people who don’t commit REAL crimes in order to avoid having to deal with those who commit real ones.

    Mixing this up with the earlier post about making it an offence to not report crimes, we can all imagine the hilarious consequences.

    Phone the police = Law suit

    Don’t phone the police = criminal offence

  • The way in which the basic assupmtions and practices of police and city governments are changing -as they beging to make asset forfeiture and eminent domain as neccesary parts of their funding- is truly horrifying. This is just another example of more of the same. It’s this kind of thing that would make me want to go to the mob instead, yeah sure they would be extorting you too… but at least they don’t do it with your tax dollars and a ‘to serve and protect’ slogan emblazened across their cars.

  • Over a century ago in the West, if there was no law, citizens had to take care of these problems themselves. Perhaps we’ve come full circle.

    I wonder if the police would respond if the property owners attacked the thieves, and the thieves had to call 911?

  • veryretired

    We often spend a great deal of bandwidth complaining about the latest ID card proposal, or tax on breathing, by the national government, but it is good to have it pointed out that this problem occurs at all levels of politics.

    Why? MONEY!

    There is an endless list of grants, loans, subsidies, tax credits, etc., etc. that start at the city level and then are supplemented and enhanced and underwritten by each succeeding level of government until no one can keep track of it anymore. And that is just exactly the point of the whole exercise.

    Oh sure, every once in a while some alderman or state rep gets caught taking bribes, just like every once in a while a few cops or city inspectors get nailed. Then everybody has a big blowout of indignation, a few peons get sentenced for their crimes, and some pious speeches are given assuring the citizenry that the problem has been rooted out.

    I know better. Everybody I have ever met knows better. There is literally no way to ever be too cynical about the rapaciousness and capacity for corruption of the political/governmental apparat. It has been a staple of civilization since the first boss appointed the first guard to watch the stores at the back of the cave.

    It is a given in the conventional wisdom that politics is corrupted by the bribes of unscrupulous businessmen. This lesson has been drilled into the subconscious of the populace forever.

    One of the unintended (at least partially, anyway) consequences of a century and more of “progressive” activist government has been the extension of state power into every conceivable area of life, and every possible means of making a living. Regulations fill page and chapter and volume after volume. Hardly anyone even questions it anymore.

    And every regulation is another excuse to extend the palms that need to be greased, to hire the lawyer whose connected to the right people, to pass the envelopes during the lunch meeting, to hire the consulting firm run by the mayor’s brother, or state reps son-in-law, or county commissioner’s nephew.

    Sometimes, when those of us who plead for a smaller, controlled, less invasive, and less meddlesome, state, limited by a strictly observed constitutional structure, talk to those for whom the government is everything the prevailing wisdom says it should be, it seems like we are talking about a fairytale land, a place divorced from the reality of everyday life and its problems.

    But we are not. We are talking about just this very problem, on the large and small scale. It is not legitimate enterprise which causes the problem, nor money, nor the fallibility of men and women.

    It is power. It is the curse so aptly described by Lord Acton. And it is inevitable unless the obvious, and necessary step is taken.

    State power must be limited and strictly controlled.

  • Verity

    veryretired: How?

  • Keith

    Great comment, veryretired, but as Verity asks–how?

  • Winzeler

    Verity and Keith, violence.

  • Anthony

    Just a state that left everyone alone unless you were harming, robbing, frauding other people without their consent would be a start…

    It really galls me that no-one questions doing immoral things in the name of the “common good” which is decided by government… I don’t know how long it will take for people to realise that the “common good” concept allows for the justification of every shade of atrocity in human history, but I have a feeling that my great great great great grandson will be wondering the same thing.

    Unless the state expands into mind control to “protect the populace.”

  • Guy Herbert

    Two examples from Britain:

    1. Westminster Council seizing property for its developments on grounds it is used for (legal) prostitution.

    2. Police using powers they don’t have to expropriate uninsured drivers, because they know it will be too much trouble for their victims to resist. Evidence from the Magistrates Association, produced here. (Thanks, Dave.)

    The distinction that in the Dallas case the powers are being used against complainants may be suggested. It is clear to me that there’s a deeper similarity here. What’s happening in each case is those in authority are using power for their own convenience regardless of its source.

    The point of rule of law is precisely to control arbitrary use of power by officials. Is it beginning to disappear in common law countries, or are these isolated examples?

  • Sudha Shenoy

    Govt officials & employees are beginning to discover they have (in effect) their own fiefdom — to exploit as they please. ‘The power to tax is the power to destroy’.

  • veryretired

    Good question. Let’s look at the possibilities.

    Although Jefferson stated that a little revolution once in a while is a good and desirable thing, violent resistence must be a last and drastic step, when all other options have not only been unsuccessful but closed off by repressive state action. It is easy to talk about being in favor of the peoples’ right to choose, but harder to accept that they do not always choose what we believe to be the correct course of action.

    It is important to remember that the pervasive power of the various levels of government did not spring full blown from Roosevelt’s brow, but was built up a little at a time. Personally, I think the Civil War was a crucial turning point in the US, followed by the progressive movement, and its accompanying mythology, which kicked off the 20th century’s infatuation with using state power to remedy a never ending list of crises and emergencies.

    We must start with education. The state run education monstrosity, and the education establishment of administrators and teacher’s unions that controls it, must be broken up. I admire teachers tremendously, and believe there are millions of dedicated educators who are doing the best they can within a seriously defective system.

    But, until intellectual achievement, not social engineering, is the cornerstone of the educational edifice again, every method must be explored that has any chance to curtail the education establishment’s control of the school system and the nation’s youth.

    Secondly, in every possible situation, the case for limited government must be calmly but forcefully put forward as a legitimate alternative to the conventional fallback position of “Let’s make a rule that…” or “We need legislation in order to…”. This will be a slow, tendentious, and agonizing process.

    The accreted mindsets of the citizenry must be slowly peeled away, and their unspoken, and unexamined, assumptions about the necessity of state action in every circumstance must be continuously challenged. It took decades of slow, patient, relentless effort on the part of statists to construct this spider’s web, and it must be untangled, strand by strand, until they can finally be chased out of the center where they have been lurking, waiting to sink their fangs into the next hapless human right that happens to wander into their trap.

    I am hopeful for a very basic reason. If an unsophisticated electrician from a Polish shipyard can lead a movement to topple a totalitarian state, or a frail author can write from the confines of his prison cell and provide the moral base for a similar civic movement in the homeland of some of my ancestors, then the possibilities for determined and principled advocates in a relatively open and free society are very good indeed.

    The keys are consistent, reasoned discourse, and a means to reach people with the arguments necessary to change the parameters of the debate from “what state action is necessary?” to “is state action necessary?” to “what action is necesary to relieve the state of this resposibility and return it to the people?”.

    The discourse is up to us. The means is sitting in front of you as you read this. The future is, literally, at our fingertips.

  • Julian Taylor

    Surely there is a big difference between what appears, in the Dallas case, to be a clear matter of straight criminal extortion as a protection racket and, in the Westminster matter, where such a case is state-sanctified. A better example in the UK might be the indiscriminate use by local officials of the Anti Social Behaviour Order- where they now no longer liaise with police, social workers or cnsult with other professionals before issuing these edicts.

    Sudha, they discovered that about 10,000 years ago when the Egyptian Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs decided that it would be a good thing to build useless pointy objects out in the desert in order to spend that little bit of surplus cash left over at the end of the grain tax year. Bureacrats do not enter public service on some fanciful Kennedyian notion, but in order to climb the tea-stained pole of officaldom to the point where they can start to exert real power over others.

  • Verity

    Julian Taylor – funny post. The Egyptians would have done better to abolish the night watchmen of the granaries, and the departments set up to oversee the night watchmen and their working conditions, healthcare, dental entitlements and pensions, and left the job to the cats, which was their first instinct. Not only are cats far better hunters than nightwatchmen, who can be persuaded, for a small fee, to make common cause with the rats (this will never happen in the case of a cat), but cats are better looking than almost any human being.

    veryretired – There was great discontent in Poland. The people were ready for the message. There is no such swell of longing for freedom in the West. Everyone is fat and happy – even those on welfare. There is no great urge for freedom, because most people in the West would look at you in astonishment if you suggested they were not living in a free society. I just don’t think you’re going to be able to persuade people who have everything they need that their governments are malign.

  • Winzeler

    Verity, the truth of your comment is a very sad thing.

  • veryretired

    Verity—just convince the guy next door.

    I don’t mean to be glib. Of course the task is daunting.

    The idea that individuals are the final repositories of all rights and political powers, which they only delegate to the agents whom they choose to represent them, was seen immediately as a dire threat by the collectivists of the right and left. The 19th century saw the proliferation of numerous philosophies and political doctrines praising the nation, the state, the blood, the spirit, the will, the volk, the empire, the autocracy, the masses, and on and on.

    My own great-great grandparents fled Bohemia due to the upheavals of the mid-1800′s, with socialist uprisings on one side and repression from the autarchs on the other. (That was on my grandmother’s side—my grandfathers’ family fled Belgium and the Low Countries after the Franco-Prussian war).

    Accompanying these ideas, without fail, was an utterly viscious and condemnatory diatribe against individualism, capitalism, and democratic principles. It is not surprizing, then, that the 20th century saw the fruition of this philosophical school across the world in the rise of the various isms that threatened, in Churchill’s words, to plunge the world into a new dark age.

    We are now living in a blessed time. The supporting doctrines which declared the state to be all, and the individual merely a tool, have been overthrown and discredited. This was a momentous achievement, which I don’t think we can appreciate as yet because we are too close to it.

    What we are dealing with now are the leftovers, the dregs, both intellectually and politically. On the international scene, instead of Hitler’s legions, or the enormous military/propaganda machine of the Soviet Union, we are dealing with deluded religious fanatics, an old, evil fool in Cuba, a malignant dwarf in N. Korea, and the various hangers-on in the assorted thugocracies that still make up so many of the governments of the world.

    The battle for the future will be fought where all battles that actually cause history to pivot are fought—in the minds, and for the minds, of the men and women who will be the polis.

    Right now, young people are already turning against the leftist, PC indoctrination they are force fed in the schools and universities. The collectivists are the staus quo, against which the young naturally rebel. We must do whatever we can to accelerate this process.

    I would like to think that my grandchildren’s childen would be able to confidently assert their rights as free people, living in a community which has geatly reduced the intrusions of the state into everyday life. I think that’s a reasonable time scale for the first part of the struggle.

  • Rob Read

    “There is a Jewish proverb that says ‘To Save One Life is to Save the World.”

    Convince one person at a time for the same reason.

  • guy herbert

    “Right now, young people are already turning against the leftist, PC indoctrination they are force fed in the schools and universities.”

    I wish I thought that correct. They may laugh at the PC froth, but their conceptual categories and manner of thought are formed by exposure to fallacy upon fallacy. A number of vapid New Left assertions are now treated as axiomatic.