Each month, Advocate Community Newspapers has lunch with members of the East Dallas Police Storefront (670-5514). The storefronts are best-known for their bicycle patrol officers. This month’s lunch included Sgt. Jim Little and Sr. Cpl. Rick Janich and was held at Massimo da Milano.

Advocate: Well, what do you guys think about Ben Click, your new boss and chief of police?

Jim: The only thing I really hate about it is that some of the guys in our department were passed over. Some of them are still relatively young, so they may have another chance in the future to become chief. But a couple of them aren’t so young anymore, and they’ll probably have to move on if they want to be in charge somewhere.

I have nothing against Click. On the surface, he looks like he’ll be a good man for the job. But I can’t believe Dallas doesn’t have someone who is ready for the job. I would just prefer to keep it here.

I remember there was a time when it was a matter of pride that our department had never had a chief who hadn’t been a Dallas police officer. That was the case up until Mack Vines (who proceeded Bill Rathburn).

Rick: But I like Click’s views on community policing. We’ve been doing that at the Storefront, and hopefully we’ll continue after he arrives.

Jim: I believe Chief Click commented that every citizen should know a police officer, should know the name of an officer he or she could call on when they need help. And I’m sure that some of the patrol officers are well-known in their area, but I don’t think many are as well-known as the Storefront officers.

Rick: I think that trend of community policing is going to continue so the officers out here can work beats again.

Jim: Here at the Storefront, we are afforded the time to be problem-solvers. In most instances, patrol officers simply don’t have the kind of time that requires.

Rick: There are programs we’re working on right now within the department – the neighborhood liaison officer – where people in a neighborhood can call them up when there’s a problem.

Jim: That’s really what the Storefront is – every one of us is a neighborhood liaison officer.

Rick: For many neighborhoods.

Jim: That eight square miles we are assigned covers a lot of neighborhoods.

Advocate: What about the mobile storefronts that are getting publicity these days? Are they really the wave of the future?

Jim: The concept of the mobile storefront is that it’s mobile – the same officers work in it, but they move to the area where there’s trouble.

I’m biased, but I still think there is a definite need for permanent storefront locations. We don’t know what’s in store for us at the East Dallas Storefront. I suspect that Central (the Storefront’s parent division) will be calling on us to staff the mobile storefront when it is put into action.

Mobility is important, but more important is the availability of the officer to the community. We have specific officers at our Storefront who work with the Vietnamese and Cambodian communities, and these communities know that when they need help, they can call these officers.

Now, if these same officers were out on patrol all of the time, it would be much harder for the community to track them down when they really need help.

Rick: We have a lot of walk-in business at the stationary storefronts because people know we’ll be there when they come in.

Jim: The mobile storefront is an excellent tool, but I don’t believe it will replace the stationary storefront. There has to be some place where everybody knows you’ll be.

And that’s the most desirable aspect of the storefront – we get to deal at least as often with the good citizens as with the riff-raff.

Even when a patrol officer answers a call and deals with a good citizen, the call usually is negative in nature.

When I was a young officer, I didn’t mind butting heads every night. But once I got into the Storefront, I found it was much more enjoyable dealing with the good citizens and working to help them solve their problems.

Advocate: Am I missing something here? You guys have kind of been launching into a defense of the Storefront, and I didn’t even ask you about that.

Jim: Every year, we always have to sweat the (City) budget cuts. We never know what will happen until its approved. At the Storefront, we’re always brought up in discussions when the subject of a manpower shortage comes up elsewhere in the department. Other parts of the department are always jealous of our manpower when they need help. Consequently, there’s always talk about reducing Storefront staffing when that comes up.

Chief Rathburn always was very strong about community policing, and the resources of the Storefront are what we need to continue that policy.

Advocate: Did you see the news items about the officer in Fort Worth who was shot while trying to stop a drug transaction at an apartment complex? All kinds of residents were interviewed, and they said this officer was a positive part of their neighborhood. And what I noticed that was interesting is that virtually the entire neighborhood is black, and this officer is white. Now, that’s community policing, isn’t it?

Rick: Really, we do what he does. When the people out here need help, we help them if we can.

Jim: You know, the media plays up the racial issue so much, but when you really get down to it in the neighborhoods, it really isn’t that big of a deal.

It makes no difference whether you’re African-American or white or Asian or Hispanic – when you’re having a problem with the people next door, it’s a problem, and it needs to be addressed. We try our best to meet the problems head-on and alleviate them.

Advocate: You know, we really started out talking about Chief Click and his selection. You guys are out here in neighborhoods every day – what advice do you have for him?

Rick: The community wants to have officers back in the community, see officers working a beat again. Whether it’s on foot, bicycle, horseback, whatever – they want to see officers back in the community.

One of the Rathburn’s big deals was that he disliked the neighborhood patrol deal where neighborhoods hire off-duty officers for extra protection. He felt, why should the people pay for an officer twice? That’s what I think, too – people shouldn’t have to pay again for something they should already be getting.

Jim: If I have one piece of advice for the chief, it’s to keep in touch with the officers in the street. Get out there and find out what’s really happening. Be seen, be involved, be available.

I remember when Rathburn came here, he had a round of meetings with all of us supervisors. I voiced a complaint about something during the meeting, and he didn’t have the answer to it, but he said we would address it at the next such meeting, which he was planning in six months. Well, we never had that meeting.

Rick: Attrition has to be addressed, too. We can’t keep losing a couple of hundred officers every year. That’s just too many to maintain a good force.

Advocate: What do you think Click can do about that?

Rick: We have to slow down the exits and keep our officers here. I think someone needs to do something about benefits,pay, working conditions – we’re still understaffed. Maybe Chief Click can influence City government to correct these inequities.

We’re not here to become wealthy, but the last raise we had was in the late 1980s. This gave back the one percent they took away.

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