A little over a year ago, Town Park apartments was quite a scene.
The government housing project in the middle of the Hollywood/Santa Monica and Gastonwood/Coronado Hills neighborhoods was the site for random gunfire, drug deals and gangs.
Then a new sheriff, or rather police officers, came to Town. A Dallas Police Department Storefront opened in the complex to help get a grip on area crime.
Since the arrival of two officers, a crime prevention specialist, a social worker and many neighborhood volunteers, crime in Town Park has been curtailed, the appearance of the complex has improved and an understanding among neighbors has developed.
“We don’t have a lot of the wanna-be gang bangers anymore,” says Bill Cox, senior corporal with the police department.
“We are dedicated 100 percent to Town Park.”
Cox and Rosemary Hills, a crime prevention specialist with the police department, were the first staff members at the Storefront. When they arrived, some people sat on porches with boom boxes drinking beer all day, and the complex was filled with blatant drug dealing, abandoned cars and unattended children.
Many of the residents wouldn’t leave their apartments after dark because of the crime, and many slept on their floors to avoid being hit by frequent random gunfire.
“This area was trashed,” Cox says.
Cox and Hills gave the residents 30 days to change. They aggressively patrolled the complex, which encompasses an area of about two-and-a-half blocks and is across the street from Lindsley Park.
Cox says they learned that the trouble-makers were not Town Park residents. Out of 75 arrests the first year at the complex, only 15 were residents.
“There’s a lot of good people out here,” Cox says. “They just need help and guidance. It’s not black or white. It’s enforcing the letter of the law. It’s having peace.”
But peace didn’t come overnight. Matter of fact, it was met with resistance. At first, the Storefront was painted with graffiti, a brick was thrown through its second-floor window, and the security light outside the Storefront was shot out. But Cox and Hills didn’t let it stop them.
“We let them know we were here to stay,” Hills says. “We were continuously on our feet telling them we weren’t going to tolerate this.”
In addition to the police patrolling, Hills and Debra Butler, a case worker at the Storefront, implemented daily programs to help the residents. Residents can take an exercise or parenting class or learn about family violence or gang intervention.
A Parent Patrol to help children cross the street to get on and off the school bus was established, as well as an honor roll for the students. Residents of nearby neighborhoods, Gastonwood/Coronado and Hollywood/Santa Monica, also help by hosting ice cream parties, tutoring Town Park residents for the GED and donating school supplies.
“It was like, ‘somebody’s finally caring about us,’” Hills says of the residents’ reaction. “Somebody’s finally paying attention to us.”
Hollywood/Santa Monica resident Veletta Lill has been working for six years to get programs established and crime reduced at Town Park. She spearheaded volunteer efforts to get the community involved and frequently meets with housing and City officials to get Town Park’s needs met and update them on efforts at the complex.
Lill and the officers in the Storefront are now working to open a recreation center in a vacant apartment.
While most neighborhoods scorn housing projects and apartments, Lill says Hollywood/Santa Monica looks at Town Park as a neighbor that needs help.
“My goal would be to make it the best public housing in Dallas,” Lill says. “We like the fact that we’re diverse, and we think we can work with that.”
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