Several East Dallas neighborhood associations are anxiously awaiting Oct. 11, when the City Council is expected to discuss crime-prevention services currently provided to the neighborhoods by off-duty Dallas police officers.

The Junius Heights Neighborhood Association, for example, pays $25 per hour for periodic surveillance by off-duty police officers to combat prostitution and small-time drug dealing in the neighborhood.

“I’m theoretically opposed to off-duty officers (monitoring neighborhoods) because I should not have to pay patrolmen to protect my life when I pay a lot of money in taxes,” says Larry Johnson, a Junius Heights resident. “But we do it out of necessity, not because we want to spend a lot of money.”

Dallas police tactical Sgt. Tom Shelton also acknowledges the problem.

“It’s a shame people have to pay extra, but the City is understaffed with police officers,” Shelton says.

The issue before the Council is not necessarily whether officers should be allowed to perform off-duty surveillance, neighborhood residents say, but whether the officers should be allowed to use marked police vehicles as part of the surveillance.

Current City policy prohibits use of marked police vehicles for mobile surveillance, although officers may use personal vehicles during off-duty work.

Shelton says the current City policy prohibiting marked vehicle use for mobile surveillance places officers at greater risk.

“If you catch a burglar, you don’t have any cover because you don’t have a radio or computer (in a personal vehicle),” Shelton says.

Maggie Greene, president of the Munger Place Historic District, supports efforts to allow police vehicles to be utilized during off-duty surveillance. Greene says her neighborhood association has employed off-duty officers for more than a year to help battle shootings, burglaries, vandalism and prostitution.

“We’ve noticed a significant decrease,” Greene says. “Crime is still with us, but we have noticed this program has made a positive impact.”

Also agreeing are Tom Moore, who is a member of the Swiss Avenue Alliance Against Crime, and Bobbi Bilnoski, past president of the Greenland Hills Neighborhood Association.

Both are members of a City sub-committee studying off-duty surveillance issues. Greenland Hills began using off-duty officers six months ago, Bilnoski says.

“We averaged 40 daytime burglaries and eight car thefts monthly,” she says. “Now, we average three to four burglaries and one car theft monthly.”

Shelton says he has heard complaints from residents who say more affluent neighborhoods benefit most from off-duty surveillance because they can afford the extra protection.

“However,” Shelton says, “the other neighborhoods also benefit (from the off-duty services) because it’s freeing up on-duty officers.”

Among the options being considered by the subcommittee are:

• Individual police officers purchasing squad cars and leasing them back to the City when the vehicles are used for regular duty.
• The City purchasing new police vehicles to be leased to neighborhood groups.
• Creating a volunteer group of neighborhood residents to become “reserve officers,” allowing the residents to patrol their neighborhoods in their own cars.
• Police and neighborhood associations banding together to purchase additional police vehicles.
• Neighborhood associations cooperating with the City to utilize marked vehicles for mobile patrols.

Other options also will be considered by the Council Oct. 11. If you would like to voice your opinion, call 670-4050 or write your Council member c/o City Hall, 1500 Marilla Street, Dallas 75201.

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