It’s almost taken for granted that older, lower-income apartment complexes are havens for criminals of almost every sort. A recent flurry of drug-related gang activity, along with a series of murders in Lake Highlands’ highly concentrated multi-family housing units near Forest and Audelia, only reinforces that perception.

The Autumn Ridge Apartment complex had three murders in just over a month last fall. The Providence and Bent Creek apartments were the scene of two more murders in quick succession. All three complexes had become home to drug dealers moving into the area from South and East Dallas.

But the Dallas Police Department, through its new saturation enforcement program, is trying to show apartment residents and nearby homeowners that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Operation Kitchen Sink is the brainchild of the Northeast Division’s Deputy Chief David Brown. He recalls that during a retreat last year, Chief David Kunkle challenged every DPD commander “to step it up, be creative, and take risks to get results.”

“I came back to the station and put Operation Kitchen Sink together,” Brown says.

As for the origin of the name, he says it just seemed appropriate.

“Because I’ve been at this station for four years, and I was thinking that we had done everything but throw the kitchen sink at the problem,” Brown says. “And now we’re doing that, too.”

The program kicked off in mid-December at the three crime-ridden Lake Highlands apartment complexes, and the results are encouraging. The Northeast Division recently completed a fourth round at the Pebbles apartment complex on Park Lane, and is preparing for a fifth round at apartment complexes in the area around Buckner and Peavy.

“We have seen an absolutely amazing decrease in crime,” says Northeast Division Sgt. Rod Dillon. “We saw a 30 percent decrease almost immediately.”

The idea is to work with apartment owners, managers and residents to reduce crime using a variety of prevention and enforcement measures. Probably the most visible aspect of Operation Kitchen Sink is the nearly month-long, 24/7 police presence at the selected complexes.

Sgt. Dillon explains the process:

“During the day, we have four to eight Interactive Community Police officers and undercover narcotic units making buys,” he says. “At night until 5 a.m., we have an entire group called Fourth Watch patrolling the properties.”

The officers in the targeted areas go door-to-door to talk with residents and let them know they are there, as well as engage in enforcement activities such as traffic stops and investigate suspicious behavior.

“We’ll stop people crawling over a back fence, and we’ll find that they’re carrying a hand gun or crack,” Dillon says. “Because the officers are right there and there are so many of them, within three or four days the crime activity will dry up. The bad guys get the idea.”

During the initial 28-day sweep, 189 arrests were made, 50 of those for felonies. Officers also wrote 1,189 citations during the operation.

Another element of the program is to set up Crime Watch groups at the apartment complexes such as those found in residential neighborhoods. The DPD enlisted the help of the Lake Highlands Area Improvement Association and nearby homeowners’ associations to help organize the apartment communities.

Steve Wakefield is president of the Woodbridge Homeowners’ Association and of the LHAIA. He has been attending the Crime Watch meetings at the apartment complexes and says the goal is for committee members to act as a resource for volunteers on the apartment Crime Watch groups.

Each complex has several block captains who report to a Crime Watch Chairman. The chairman coordinates with the DPD on a weekly and monthly basis.

“I think that there’s a sense that within the complex themselves, law-abiding citizens are as fed up with the situation as the neighborhoods around them,” he says. “It did seem like there was some trepidation because some of the volunteers hadn’t been in that type of role before.”

Dillon says part of that is the transitory nature of apartment living.

“It’s a challenge because they don’t see it as a long-term place to live. But we’ve been getting huge turnouts at the meetings.”

Wakefield thinks the real question is if the decrease in the crime rate will last through the summer, when more people are out and about.

“The question is going to be can they keep it working long term and keep the apartment residents involved. I’m encouraged by the approach of Chief Kunkle and Deputy Chief Brown, but I think it’s too early in the game to tell if it is going to work.”

The next phase of Operation Kitchen Sink, Dillon says, is to do maintenance visits to the apartment complexes. An undercover group and ICP officers will go back for a couple of days periodically to check in and make sure the drug activity hasn’t started back up.

“We want to let them know that we haven’t forgotten about them just because we don’t have 14 officers there every night.”

Terri Woods, former president of the LHAIA, says the police can only accomplish so much. At some point, property owners and managers have to take responsibility for the security of their residents and surrounding neighborhoods.

“Apartment owners have both the ability and the responsibility to assist in preventing and discouraging criminal activity,” Woods says.

She cites statistics showing that Lake Highlands has a higher percentage of renters (67 percent) than Dallas as a whole (57 percent). That is due in part to the glut of apartment units, but also because this part of Dallas is in Richardson ISD.

Wakefield agrees.

“Absolutely the density of apartments in this area is part of the problem. In addition to that, we have a lot of very old complexes that are not well maintained or well managed.”

District 10 Councilman Bill Blaydes has been trying to get an initiative passed at City Hall that would allow the city to tear down some of the more dilapidated, crime-infested complexes in Lake Highlands. The properties would then be rezoned for uses other than multi-family.

In the meantime, Blaydes says he’s happy with what the Dallas Police Department is achieving with Operation Kitchen Sink. As of earlier this year, the Northeast Division led every other division in crime reduction with a decrease of 11 percent.

“They’re deadly serious about cleaning up the area. We are becoming more and more intolerant as our crime numbers stay at high levels,” Blaydes says. “What it’s doing is empowering people living at the complexes. It gives them heart that somebody is there to help.”