You have probably noticed the articles, like I have, concerning the recent police crackdown on panhandling and the enduring homeless problem. Of course, these two concerns are intertwined since a significant number of the panhandlers are also homeless. I wanted to summarize some of the information in these recent news articles and share a few thoughts of my own.
As you are probably aware, residential activity in downtown and the surrounding areas has exploded in recent years and along with it, mounting concern over crime. Downtown residents have been particularly vocal in the last few months demanding more police attention and visibility, and they have been very successful. Late last year downtown residents pushed for and won full 24-hour police coverage in downtown. Previously, no police patrols had been assigned specifically to downtown during the late night hours (this being a carryover from the old days when downtown was a ghost town at night, which is definitely not the case anymore). The recent crackdown on panhandling is also a direct result of the renewed police attention being given to the downtown area.
From talking with Deputy Chief John Lawton from the Central Division (which includes downtown and Bryan Place), I learned that they have special panhandling units concentrated in downtown and the Deep Ellum areas where it is thought to be more of a problem. This, of course, results in a “whack a mole” situation, where the bad guys move on to other neighborhoods not being targeted by the police. As a result, we need to be watchful
for this type of activity in our neighborhood and quickly call 9-1-1 when appropriate.
The police are asking residents to call 9-1-1 when seeing panhandlers and to not give them money. Some of these panhandlers are violent felons (33 of the 162 individuals arrested for panhandling in 2016 have had a history of violent crime). Car windows should stay closed and doors locked at all times when being approached by these individuals.
Our Mayor, Mike Rawlings, has made the homeless issue a priority for the past decade (as Mayor and previously as the city’s homeless czar) but the problem continues to grow. Recent surveys have shown that the tent cities under I-30 and I-45 are growing along with the associated crime, trash and public health issues. New initiatives come every year or so but the problem persists.
What I take away from all this is the need for our community to stay informed and involved with the issues affecting downtown and the surrounding communities. The city responds to pressure by its citizens, proving the age old saying that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
Please do not hesitate to contact the police with any security issue or concern by calling 9-1-1 or 3-1-1 (for non-emergencies) when appropriate.