Each month, the Advocate visits with Sgt. Jim Little, Sr. Cpl. Rick Janich and Officer T.X. “Tri” Ngo of East Dallas Storefront police station, 1327 N. Peak Street (670-5514). The Storefront is best-known for its bicycle patrol officers, who pedal the streets of East Dallas weekdays. The City of Dallas funds the Storefront, but numerous volunteers and organizations provide both hours and funds to develop special programs aimed at building better relations among police officers and neighborhoods.

Advocate: I read in the Morning News recently that the new Roseland Homes storefront (located at Hall and Munger) had some fire damage.

Jim: Yes, it was real close to being completed at the time they set the fire. It was built like a double-wide mobile home, and the storefront was moved onto the property Monday, set up Tuesday, we built porches and ramps Wednesday, and somebody torched it Thursday morning.

Advocate: Any idea why or who?

Jim: We haven’t found out who did it yet, but we’re still looking. The dope dealers don’t want us looking down their throats, though.

Rick: Right across the street from the storefront, we closed down an old pool hall where there was a lot of “dealing” going on.

Jim: That area is heavy into dope dealing. That’s the primary reason we chose that location for the storefront. And it serves the (Dallas Housing Authority’s) Roseland Homes apartment complex, too.

Rick: The really bad thing about the fire is that all of the funds were raised through private donations. Now, the repairs are going to be delayed while they look for the funds to repair it.

Advocate: How does that work? You don’t have the money to repair the building?

Jim: I have a budget to operate the storefront, but the budget calls for renting property. Well, the City purchased the land after some private individuals agreed to fund the building – that’s how it happened. A group calling itself the Hall-Munger concerned citizens raised the money from businesses, corporations and individuals in the area.

Advocate: How much money are we talking about?

Jim: The building, installed, was about $33,000. It’s a 24-by-40-foot building. I’m anticipating about a $6,000 to $7,000 bill to repair the fire damage.

Advocate: How did the fire start?

Rick: They broke a window out in the back (of the storefront) and started the fire through that with gasoline. We’re working on getting a fence put up in the back to secure the building a little better.

Jim: I’m still kicking myself about that. My main concern was someone breaking in and stealing bathroom fixtures to sell. I didn’t even think about someone torching it, or I would have sat down there all night guarding it myself.

Advocate: Why would someone break into the place just to steal a toilet or sink? How much can those be fenced for?

Jim: How much is a dime bag of cocaine? Dopers will steal anything just to get a couple of bucks.

Advocate: What about a burglar alarm – will you install one?

Jim: Burglar alarms are installed by a company through an overall Citywide contract, so they’ll take care of that.

Rick: The problem here was that since a private group was constructing the building and donating it to the City, they hadn’t finished it prior to the fire so they hadn’t donated it to the City. The burglar alarm isn’t installed until the City owns the property. And the private group didn’t have insurance, so there’s no money to make the repairs.

Advocate: Once the storefront is repaired, who is going to staff it?

Jim: We’ll have four employees – two officers and two civilians – and the facility will be used by patrol officers working the area.

I don’t know of another project that has been entered into like this between the police department and the private sector. Of course, the people investing in this project aren’t just doing it because they love the police, although I’m sure they do.

They’re doing it because they want to invest in the area to improve it. It’s so rundown economically, with dope dealers and whatever, that until we get a handle on the problem, it’s not going to improve. That’s where the new storefront comes in – it will help.

I’ve been amazed because they’ve been getting donations from citizens who don’t even live in the affected area. They think that if the problem is controlled there, it will help them, too. It really is the first step in revitalizing the area, and we’re not going to let a little fire slow us down.

Advocate: Who has been responsible for the private group and raising all of the money?

Jim: It amazes me that they just got it going. They just said, we’re going to do it for you, and they did.

Alphonso Jackson (director of the DHA) put his considerable influence behind it, as both the DHA director and as a private citizen. And John Woodard with the auto repair centers on Ross; this has been his pet project with both his money and time.

Rick: Yeah, Woodard is on top of everything. When he walks in, you know that he’s the kind of guy who gets things done. I wouldn’t have wanted to have been near him when he heard about the fire.

Jim: Well, I was, and he was just sort of speechless. He said: I can’t believe that we’re doing the best to help the people in the area, and then they burn it down. But he knew that wasn’t the case; the people down there know we’re trying to help them.

Rick: If you talk with the officers in the projects, the people who live there (in Roseland Homes) aren’t the problem. It’s the people from outside who are causing the problem.

Advocate: You know, during the past year or year-and-a-half, what kind of progress have you guys been making in wiping out drug dealers and all of that around here?

Rick: I think we’ve made some progress. There are some places where the homeless used to hang out, drinking. It’s not happening anymore.

Advocate: Where did they move?

Tri: Away from here.

Rick: It used to be in certain areas – for example, Bryan and Carroll – where people just used to go and hang out. But there’s hardly anyone there anymore. Bryan and Fitzhugh is the same way.

We used to get calls every day about prostitution, whatever. We hardly ever get them now (from those areas). The regular suspects, they’re just not around anymore.

Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.