Assistant City Attorney Rita Ballard is new to Lake Highlands – she’s been on the job working as our community prosecutor just 5 weeks – but says she has lots of creative ideas about ridding our neighborhood of crime and of the criminals that keep us up at night.

At a meeting hosted by the Lake Highlands Public Improvement District (LHPID) last week and attended by Dallas Police leaders from the Northeast substation, Ballard sought information from homeowners about crime and their experiences.

“I’m hitting the ground running,” she told the group. “We’ve been compiling crime stats and they are giving us a good picture of what’s going on. Now I want to hear from you.”

Neighbors, many serving on the boards of their homeowner associations, expressed frustration at the perceived uptick in recent crime and mischief.

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“What can we do to help,” asked Spencer Smith, “because we’re still having problems. Last week, a bullet landed in a homeowner’s bathtub from the apartments next door, and I was solicited at our 7-11 by a prostitute. We’ve been robbed and our neighbors on either side of us have been robbed. I’m kind of fired up because it’s hard to recruit members [to our HOA]. How can we tell them we’re doing something good here? A year ago, I was in Walgreen’s checking out and a gun went off. It’s not hard to guess where it’s coming from. It’s the apartments across the street, and it ticks me off. It’s not getting any better.”

Ballard shared that overall crime is down 31% for the first 7 months of 2017 compared to 2016, with violent offenses down 13% and property crime down 37%. (The stats were prepared for Tri-Alliance, a group of LH neighborhoods, because the meeting was initially called by that HOA.) The biggest decreases were in Burglary of a Residence (12 in 2017 vs. 24 in 2016) and Theft/Burglary of Motor Vehicle (BMV) (16 vs. 34). Rape (3 vs. 1) and Murder (1 vs. 0) both showed increases.

“If you have concerns about the activity coming from certain apartment complexes, you can dial 911, you can talk to the management or you can let me know,” said Ballard. “My role as community prosecutor is to make neighborhoods safer. If there’s an issue with an apartment complex that is consistent, I’d love to have it on my radar. I work with a team – a code inspector, the Dallas Fire Marshall, Dallas Police officers. We go and do inspections of homes, businesses, apartments – and we see what’s going on.”

Homeowners expressed their gratitude at the new initiatives, but encouraged Ballard – and her law enforcement counterparts – to keep the pressure on.

“We’re trying to protect ourselves from the inside,” said Smith. “Why can’t we reach out to these apartment complexes to clean their act up? Walgreen’s should not need a security officer. I asked Tom Thumb [at Skillman and Royal] why they have one of their two doors blacked out. They said it takes thieves longer to run out from the check cashing office. There should be something we can do to thwart this crime. There are 3 security officers at that store, so most of us go somewhere farther away to shop. That’s sad.”

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Ballard explained that apartment communities with high crime rates can be put into the RISK pool, meaning a DPD Nuisance Abatement Team can use criminal and civil statutes as well as local law enforcement authority to force property owners to make improvements. The place to start, she said, is with homeowners calling 911 when they see criminal activity.

Kathy Stewart, executive director of the LHPID, works with owners and managers of apartment and condo communities along the Skillman corridor to recruit law-abiding residents and repel the criminal element. Dallas’ strong economy has been helpful, she said, because LH multi-family is full and managers can be more selective. Complexes which were partnering with programs for the homeless such as Family Gateway and CitySquare no longer are, and few now accept subsidized housing vouchers.

“I know the perception is different when it happens to you,” said Stewart. “You want to be able to go to 7-11 and walk your dog and feel safe. I understand that feeling of vulnerability and that frustration. This is your home, this is your neighborhood. You want to feel safe.”

You can reach Community Prosecutor Rita Ballard at rita.ballard@dallascityhall.com.