Each month, the Advocate visits with Sgt. Michael Gurley, Sr. Cpl. Edward Vasquez and Sr. Cpl. Rick Janich of the East Dallas Storefront police station, 1327 N. Peak Street (670-5523). Three police officers and five community service workers are employed at the Storefront, which coordinates multilingual services ranging from tutoring to crime prevention. The Storefront is best-known for its bicycle patrol officers, who pedal the streets of East Dallas weekdays. The City of Dallas funds the Storefronts, but numerous volunteers and organizations work together to develop programs aimed at building better relations among police officers and neighborhoods.
Advocate: The annual Swiss Avenue Tour of Homes was just completed, and I noticed several of you pedaling through the neighborhood, keeping an eye on the crowd. What type of reaction did you receive?
Mike: The good thing about Swiss Avenue, it’s a classic example of the police department and community working together. It was just after last year’s home tour that the idea of the bike program came up. Some of the proceeds from last year’s tour went directly for this program. That event really highlights what we are after, bringing the resources of the community and the police department together to help prevent crime.
Rick: A lot of people had read about the bicycle patrol in the paper or seen it on television, but they hadn’t seen us in person.
Mike: The kids love it. A lot came up to us…
Rick: Like the three kids with Chicago Bulls caps…
Mike: Yeah, they came up and kidded us the rest of the day whenever they saw us. The bikes give us that opportunity to talk on a personal basis. For example, a squad car sat on the corner of Triangle Park, and nobody came up and talked with the guy in the car. Yet, there we were, 20 yards away, and people were stopping by all the time.
Advocate: Each of you frequently speaks at neighborhood crime watch meetings. What good do these meetings do in terms of reducing crime?
Mike: The idea of a crime watch is to make people aware of who their neighbors are and what is normal right around them. You’re not going to get any earth-shattering crime tips there, but you’ll be more aware. It’s really an opportunity to get specific answers to specific questions.
Rick: It’s an environment where people have the opportunity to talk with an officer one-on-one. You don’t get too many opportunities to do that.
Advocate: We talked a little last month about the L.A. beating incident and how it is affecting your jobs. Anything new to say about it?
Mike: It’s like living in a fishbowl right now. Everyone is keying in the L.A. incident, but it really hasn’t affected how we operate here. The truth is that we are a well-regulated department, and we’ve got safeguards and checks and balances to hopefully prevent something like that here.
Rick: We police ourselves, but a lot of other agencies are there to keep an eye on us, too.
Edward: Yeah, like internal affairs and crimes against persons (police department divisions), the grand jury, the medical examiner’s office, the civilian review board, and the justice department.
Advocate: Well, you know, at least a few people are going to read these comments about how well-regulated the department is and just laugh. They won’t believe it.
Mike: It’s my belief that the population in general believes it, or they’d throw out the system and start over.
Advocate: How about the current Dallas political situation. It seems that the main theme these days is pro-rata representation: If minority representation in an organization doesn’t precisely reflect the population distribution, someone starts crying ‘racism’. Edward, you’re Hispanic. How do you feel about all of this?
Edward: I’m a police officer first before anything else.
Rick: We’re not dispatched on calls because we’re white, and the criminal is white or whatever. We’re just called, and we go.
Mike: You’ve got so many concerns when you arrive at a call – safety, legal, liability – that when you arrive, you just take care of business. You’re not thinking about race.
Edward: Some of the minority leaders, well, they’re more or less politicians more interested in political gain. If they were really trying to help their groups, they’d be doing things differently. They’d be working with us instead of against us.
Rick: A lot of people say we’re lagging in hiring (minorities), but I just got out of police personnel (Rick worked in that department for several years.), and they’re doing the best they can to hire minorities, but they just can’t keep up.
Advocate: I saw in the paper the other day that a Dallas officer had beaten up a drunk while attempting to arrest him, and another officer turned him in, resulting in a suspension. And Chief Bill Rathburn commended the officer who turned in his partner. I’ve always wondered how often one officer really turns in another.
Edward: Most of the times that an officer is disciplined, it’s usually another officer who has turned him in.
Mike: We’re an organization made up of human beings who on occasion make mistakes, on occasion commit violations of police policy. We’re just human beings.
Advocate: How are things going with Chief Rathburn?
Rick: The new chief has set the tone about fairness. He has said everything is going to be fair and equal. If there were some problems in the past, I think we’re rounding the corner. I was just at a meeting with the chief, and you can talk with him, he was there joking with the officers. I was impressed.
Edward: We’re seeing some positive leadership now, some direction.
Rick: We know where he’s coming from. He’s community-oriented. He was at the (Swiss Avenue) home tour, and he didn’t just show up and then leave. He stuck around, because he’s interested in the community.
Edward: You know, when did he start here? April 4? I’ve been with the department 10 years, and in the short time he has been here, I’ve seen him (Rathburn) more times than I have seen all of the other chiefs put together. When the chief comes up and asks about you, asks your first name, that says something. It says he cares about you.
Rick: When he’s out on the street, that does a lot of good for morale.
Advocate: Do you think that good morale in a police department is any more or less important than in any other business?
Rick: When everybody’s working toward the same goal, you’re going to get a lot more done than when everyone’s working in different directions.
Mike: In private industry, there are different ways to motivate someone than there are in the police department – money, raises, incentives. In the police department, we don’t have those things.
Of course, you don’t get into police work to make money. We know going in we’re not going to make much money. Here, we have to be motivated by knowing we are accomplishing something. It’s an internal deal. And we can feel we are making progress if a leader is leading us that way.
Rick: The chief is going to be good for the city and the police department. He’s going to do some good things.
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