During my 14-year stint as a daily newspaper reporter, I covered a lot of public officials making speeches – even, occasionally, an unpopular one. I saw some wildly charismatic candidates – Ross Perot, Ann Richards and then-novice George W. Bush – work a crowd.

At Bill Blaydes’ town hall meeting recently, I was thinking about how hard it is to tell an audience something that some people won’t like. That’s what happened when Blaydes said that he favored changing the name of Kingsley to Walnut Hill Lane so that the street has the same name in Lake Highlands as it does everywhere else in Dallas. (Makes perfect sense to me if we want more development in the area.)

But Blaydes’ folksy oratorical style wasn’t what got me thinking about political rhetoric and courage – it was the surprisingly direct appeal from Northeast Police Chief David Brown.

If you weren’t there, you missed a real rarity in a city where politicians often ignore the elephant in the room.

First, Brown delivered some encouraging news about crime statistics in the district, prompting a warm round of applause. At that point, most men would sit down. Instead, Brown related a story about how he regretted letting communication break down with his son when he was a teenager. And he told the audience that many of us in Lake Highlands have basically done the same thing by viewing apartment residents as criminals rather than crime victims themselves.

“You guys have a cold; they have pneumonia,” Brown told the homeowners in the audience. “They’re just as passionate about living in a safe environment as you are.”

“There’s a disconnect, except to say ‘All the crime’s over there,’” he told the crowd. “I hear you, I agree with you, but the solution is over there also.”

As one who has taken heat from Lake Highlands residents who didn’t like what I had to say in this space, I couldn’t help wondering what kind of reaction Chief Brown received. So I called a week later and asked.

“I didn’t get any negative feedback. It’s gone over really well,” he said. “I got phone calls and email afterward asking what people can do to help.”

The answer to that question is easy: Get in touch with the Lake Highlands Area Improvement Association (lhaia.org), which is recruiting volunteers to help apartment residents organize their own crime watch groups. People with questions also can call the Northeast station at 214-670-4415.

Brown’s goal is ambitious. He wants to see a crime watch group in every apartment complex along the Forest Lane-Audelia corridor between now and summer. That works out to be about 26 groups. There are five now. There were zero in December, when Northeast officers launched “Operation Kitchen Sink,” which involved a few weeks of saturation patrols of the area’s three worst apartment complexes. (See related story, in next month’s Advocate.)

That’s when he realized that law-abiding apartment residents weren’t as organized as nearby homeowners about providing tips and reporting suspicious activity to police. If they receive some coaching on crime watch techniques, they could be a formidable force.

“In the worst crime areas of Dallas, there are many more law-abiding residents than criminals,” Brown says.

If enough homeowners who are crime watch experts step forward to help, those criminals could someday have a hard time going home.