Any Northeast Dallas resident who was watching the police blotter this fall might have been alarmed. There were seven murders in a 28-day period, a rare occurrence in itself. But it was the case of the burning body in Lake Highlands that really got neighbors buzzing.

Fire fighters were called to the 10400 block of Vistadale Drive around 1:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning in November. They found a man in the alley who had been bound and set on fire. The authorities later said the 36-year-old man died of multiple sharp force injuries.

Investigators determined that the man was neither a Lake Highlands resident, nor was he visiting the neighborhood when he was attacked. According to police, he was probably killed in Pleasant Grove, then moved and “dumped” to help conceal the identity of his attackers.

It’s horrifying to imagine even the aftermath of such brutality invading Lake Highlands’ quiet streets. According to Dallas police and neighborhood crime watch volunteers, it is also still very unusual.

In fact, police statistics show that crime in the city’s Northeast division is down 10 percent overall this year to date, compared to last year at the same time.

The murder rate is up, however, thanks in part to what police suspect are drug-related crimes. A 29 percent increase in homicides so far this year reflects 40 murders through early December, compared to 31 during the same period last year. While police are quick to say even one homicide is too many, the numbers show it is not an everyday problem in the area.

Still, murder is about as serious as crime gets.

The spate of homicides in Northeast Dallas prompted police to try a new approach at three apartment complexes where there have been several murders.

First, undercover officers made cases on drug dealers in the area. Then they went back and made arrests. Beyond that, they want to help apartment residents establish crime watch groups. Toward that end, up to 75 officers will be stationed at the apartments around the clock for about a month to gain support and trust from the residents.

It’s about as much as anyone can realistically ask from a police department, and it’s as good or better as similar problems get in other parts of town.

Beyond that, there’s plenty of work to be done outside of apartment complexes.

Despite the overall drop in Northeast crime, business burglaries increased by 5.8 percent this year compared to last, and residential burglaries rose by 7.4 percent.

Joan Quiett, president of Lake Highlands #1076 Crime Watch, says the area is still safer than many other parts of the city, or even other sections of Northeast Dallas. The problems that exist – such as panhandling, items stolen from mailboxes and other nonviolent crimes – tend to cause more frustration than outright fear, she says.

Sharon Smith, chairwoman of the Highland Meadows Crime Watch, says the most common crimes reported are car and residential burglaries and “scams” involving people who try to dupe homeowners out of cash.

“Some neighbors have asked if patrol members have ever stopped a crime from happening,” Smith says. “We can’t prove it, but we feel that we have.”

I can’t prove it either. But I’ve got to hand it to them for trying.