Here’s a quick crime quiz: Are you more likely to be assaulted in Coppell, Lewisville, Plano or Lakewood/East Dallas? You may want to be sitting down for the answer to this question: Lakewood is actually more safe than Coppell or Lewisville, and just slightly more dangerous than Plano.
Too often, many of us single out our own neighborhoods as more dangerous than the more-publicized suburban enclaves.
But after a close look at actual crime statistics in our neighborhood and these suburban cities, assumption does not always match reality: last year, there were four assaults per 1,000 residents in Lakewood, compared with nine in Coppell, 13 in Lewisville and three in Plano.
Overall, in fact, our residential neighborhoods experience virtually the same amount of crime per 1,000 residents as our neighbors in Coppell and Lewisville. Our neighborhood even compares favorably, crime-wise, with that nirvana to the north: Plano.
Surprising? Not to those who live here.
“I think it’s going to be pretty much the same,” says State District Judge Richard Johnson, a Lakewood resident since 1969.
“I think people perceive that we have a crime problem, but they perceive that there’s a crime problem everywhere.”
Are Suburbs Safer?
Statistics from the Northeast Dallas Police Department show that criminal activity in our neighborhoods is about the same as that of suburban cities with comparable housing values, such as Coppell, Lewisville and Plano.
But there is a twist.
The neighborhoods compare equally after three small, high-crime pockets within the Northeast division’s coverage area – Lower Ferguson, Upper Ferguson and Vickery Park (bounded by Greenville, East Northwest Highway, Abrams and Merriman Parkway) – are taken out of the equation.
The majority of our neighborhood’s offenses occur in these specific crime beats, yanking crime statistics up for the entire Lakewood/East Dallas community.
Of course, don’t try convincing Plano Police Officer Mark Dawson that this type of apples-to-apples comparison is fair.
“You’re taking a snapshot of Plano and a snapshot of your neighborhood, but you’re excluding the cancer,” Dawson says.
Neighborhood residents say the comparison is valid, given the differences between old, established neighborhoods, and newer areas densely populated with apartments.
Police statistics (see accompanying chart) show that the overall difference between crime in suburbia and in our neighborhoods, in many cases, is statistically insignificant.
Why, then, do we have such a hard time believing the statistics?
The grass is always greener on the other side – that’s a well-known bit of philosophy that merits consideration.
The search for unspoiled land in which to build a better life is part of the American experience, says Glenn Linden, a Lakewood resident who teaches history at Southern Methodist University. He is the author of “Desegregating Schools in Dallas: Four Decades in the Federal Courts.”
“Mobility is always part of history,” Linden says. “There were suburbs a hundred years ago. People get money and they move out.
“Many people believe they are safer in suburbs, whether it’s outside of Dallas or outside Seattle. There is a romantic illusion that a suburb is safer. You are certainly looking at a different community.”
Linden has found a sense of community responsibility in his Lakewood neighborhood that he thinks may not be found by those who move out to a new, ready-made frontier.
“People know each other and look after each other,” Linden says. “When someone stops on our street, we know about it.”
That’s a theme sounded over and over again by neighborhood residents when discussing our neighborhoods: well-designed, sturdy homes; beautiful trees and landscapes; close proximity to work, shops and restaurants; and good schools.
Says urban planner Paris Rutherford, vice president of the Lakewood Homeowners Association: “These neighborhoods weren’t built around the car. In areas like McKinney (Avenue), there are places to work and to go out all within walking distance. That’s something you can’t do in North Plano.”
These advantages go a long way toward attracting residents willing to get past knee-jerk reactions regarding urban living.
Sherryl Wesson, manager of Ebby Halliday’s Northeast Dallas office, says several months ago, her office set an all-time record for people under contract to purchase homes in our neighborhood.
“They’ve (real estate numbers) been trending toward an increase in the past couple years. It’s been pretty dramatic,” she says.
Neighborhood residents aren’t the only people who have bought into the “crime is higher” fears – prospective real estate developers also have been influenced by the fears.
The misperceptions about neighborhood crime, Johnson says, have resulted in less commercial office space being built and fewer new retailers moving into our neighborhoods.
Our neighborhood is a great place for upscale retail and new office space, Johnson says. But businesses continue to be frightened away by frequent media descriptions of violent crime identified as occurring vaguely, and often unfairly, in East Dallas.
“East Dallas has not grown the way it should business-wise,” Johnson says. “Not a night goes by that you don’t hear about a shooting in ‘East Dallas’ that’s in an area that we don’t call East Dallas.”
For example, crimes occurring near Downtown, in Pleasant Grove (a neighborhood located south of Interstate 30), and in the Ferguson-area’s densely populated apartment complexes often are tagged with the generic “East Dallas” label.
Property crimes such as vandalism and theft are more of a problem here than violent crimes, Johnson says. But the overall darker image seems to be causing retailers and commercial developers to overlook the many benefits of doing business here.
“We’ve got good folks here with money to spend,” Johnson says. “We need retailers to take it. We try to patronize our businesses and use them instead of leaving East Dallas.”
Amy Adams-Porter, principal at White Rock North School, has seen several students whisked away to suburbs by parents who think they will be making a home in a safer, less-congested area.
“The perception of more crime in the City is associated with poverty,” she says. “People see poverty coming in this area, and it scares them.”
These residents say opinion bandied about as fact also hurts our neighborhoods’ ability to attract new businesses.
Randall Hall, president of Design/Build construction company, has crews at work in Lakewood, Preston Hollow, Lake Highlands and the Park Cities. He says they have “never encountered trouble or anything that looked like trouble.”
That kind of glowing report is not what most people hear, he says, especially form real estate sales people outside our area who have a financial stake in making another area look more desirable.
“Real estate people foster it by carrying on about the crime here,” Hall says. “People hear something in their office and assume it’s a fact. They hear people say there’s more crime here and assume it’s a fact.”
Don Wilson, chairman of the Northeast Dallas Alliance for Economic Development, also has heard simple bad-mouthing trumpeted as gospel. He feels safe in his neighborhood and at his Downtown office, where during a recent walk he saw two police officers on bike patrol.
Wilson believes Downtown is experiencing an economic comeback, and he believes this renaissance will have a positive impact on our neighborhoods.
The appeal of suburbia may lie in the assumption that new is better, Wilson says. But a new neighborhood can still be subject to the same old concerns.
“My daughter and her husband are building a home in Allen – how many miles from Downtown Dallas is that?” he says.
“The first thing the builder asked was if they wanted a security system. I thought that was interesting.”
Making An Impact
Because their statistics show more crimes occurring in our Lower Ferguson, Upper Ferguson and Vickery Park neighborhoods, police have singled out these areas for extra measures.
Dallas Police Officer Larry Allen believes the focused attention is paying off. Allen is a patrol officer on the 11 p.m.-7 a.m. shift for the Vickery Park apartment area near Park Lane and Greenville.
He says the majority of calls are apartment and auto burglaries, along with domestic assaults. Apartment complexes, because of the dense population of residents, tend to attract more than their share of crime, police say.
“Family disturbances are going to be everywhere. The reason there are a lot of them here is because there is such a high concentration of people,” he says.
Based on his daily policing experience in the last seven years, Allen says violent crime calls have decreased during the past year within Vickery Park. The Northeast Division’s 12 Inner-Community Police Officers are making a large dent in the crime problem, he says.
Mark Smith, the ICP sergeant with Northeast, says these officers are the core of a program that evolved in 1994 with the goal of helping residents become more familiar with police officers. Each ICP officer patrols one of the four targeted high crime zones and is available in specific areas day and night.
Residents establish trusting relationships with these officers, and the relationships then build a strong backbone for the community that often ends up deterring crime, Smith says.
Through the ICP program, the police officers are helping foster the sense of community that has been so successful in keeping crime lower in the other portions of our neighborhood.
“From what we gather, the communities love us,” Smith says. “It’s not made for emergencies, it’s more for long-term problems. It’s a quality-of-life issue.”
Maintaining the high quality of life in our neighborhoods is a priority for many neighbors.
For one, consider that our neighborhood police division has the largest Volunteers in Patrol program in Dallas, placing trained residents in marked cars to patrol their neighborhoods.
That kind of involvement is what keeps our neighborhoods more safe, Wilson says. His volunteer work with the Dallas Northeast Alliance for Economic Development is part of a community effort to attract and keep businesses here.
When Wilson sees something that could be improved in the neighborhood, he says he lets City officials know about it. Serving on City boards or informing City officials of specific needs are ways to keep our neighborhoods strong, he says.
Johnson also is a believer in community involvement – he is a committee leader for the Northeast Dallas Chamber of Commerce and the Lakewood Homeowners Association, among other activities – and he wants to combine action with a touch of public relations.
“If we keep projecting the image we want, we’ll get there,” Johnson says.
“It’s a promotion. We just have to get out there and promote our City.”