Dallas police want ‘cruising’ law to help them stop pimps. But some say it could unfairly target people of color
Myrna Mendez said it’s not uncommon for women to hang out on a stopped car in a neighborhood in northwest Dallas where she has lived for 30 years. Open drug sales are a daily occurrence.
She said most parents are concerned about their children walking home from the bus stop around Harry Hines Boulevard and Royal Lane. And it’s gotten worse in the past five years.
“It’s a problem now during the day and night,” Mendez said in Spanish.
The problem is not lost to the police. Between January and July, officials arrested 88 people in stitches aimed at those driving down Harry Hines’ corridor in search of sex. In midsummer, police said they had arrested seven men on suspicion of soliciting sex from people who turned out to be undercover officers. All but one of those arrested were colored people.
On Wednesday, Dallas officials will be considering whether to allow police officers to stop drivers who have driven approximately two and a half miles in northwest Dallas at least three times over two hours. Police say it is to prevent people from trading women for sex. The penalty is a fine of up to $ 500.
Police say the increased powers would give them the ability to run over drivers who they suspect are pimps. Right now, a police officer might stop someone for a traffic violation or recruiting a prostitute – but not to do laps of the area.
Proponents have described the proposal as a way to bring officers closer to the apprehension of suspected pimps and sex traffickers at what is known as the “epicenter of prostitution” in Dallas. Companies have complained about the activity.
“This has been a problem here for decades,” said Eric Lindberg, president of the Northwest Dallas Business Association, which represents about 50 companies. “I think it’s still a problem because historically the city council has no concerns – it’s just my gut feeling.”
Opponents have argued that the proposal could lead to civil rights violations and ultimately push illegal activities to other parts of the city.
Mendez knows something needs to be done, but she isn’t sure how best to fight the problem. She is concerned that immigrants, especially those without papers, will be caught in arrests.
“It’s one thing to stop them,” she said. “But I hope they don’t arrest people just to make arrests.”
The area where police are trying to crack down on prostitution is a warehouse district mostly made up of businesses that close between 3:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. Pedestrian traffic almost stops afterwards, said Lindberg.
It’s not uncommon for some owners to return to work in the morning and find used condoms in their parking lot, he said. Lindberg, who has an office on the Shady Trail, believes he saw people involved in prostitution during the day.
“This regulation is really about protecting the businesses that employ families in this region, pay taxes and do the right thing,” said Lindberg.
Wednesday marks the second time in so many months that the proposed change comes before elected guides, and it will take effect from 4:30 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. in the Harry Hines Boulevard corridor – the longest of any non-cruise zone in the city. Other areas usually go from 8:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. City records show the plan is expected to generate $ 45,000.
As part of the proposed change, police would focus their efforts on drivers circling parts of the West End Historic District in the downtown area. It would affect areas of Harry Hines Boulevard, Shady Trail, Walnut Hill Lane, and Southwell Road. One such rule is in Deep Ellum, where the goal was to reduce traffic and noise.
Dallas isn’t the only city in Texas with a no-cruise zone. El Paso also has rules against drivers who repeatedly drive through parts of the city late at night and into the wee hours of the morning.
After the local proposal was forwarded to the Dallas City Council on November 9 without discussion by the Public Safety Committee, members voted two days later to postpone the plan after several raised concerns.
Councilor Omar Narvaez, who represents the district affected by the proposal, said at the time that no one had asked him about the planned expansion of the city law.
“[Prostitution] is a problem, ”said Narvaez last month. “But at the same time, how do I know that the vast majority of these businesses that are owned and run by colored people, that these people are not going to be the ones to be targeted or run over if they are just trying to get to work ? “
Narvaez did not respond to requests from The Dallas Morning News for comments on the proposal.
Deputy City Administrator Jon Fortune, who oversees public safety, described the proposal as a means of intervention during a November 11 city meeting and assured Narvaez that it would not be “aimed at random people driving down the street.”
Lt. Gerald Smalley, who oversees the Dallas police deputy unit, said during the same meeting that a detective first came up with the plan because police are trying to target the pimps who run prostitution rings or force people to do sex work, often remotely.
“When we are out there and do surveillance, we see these men gathering, they are cruising this area, they are parking in parking lots, they are intimidating the women and there has been violence and shooting related to their activities,” said Smalley. “One of our priorities is to prosecute these traffickers in this part of town.”
He said distraction programs are offered to victims of sex trafficking, people engaged in prostitution and people asking for sex.
Jessica Brazeal, program director for Dallas-based sex trafficking advocacy group, New Friends New Life, told The News that she appreciated the police force in finding ways to tackle sex trafficking and prostitution in the city. She didn’t think that suggestion alone would go far enough.
Sex trafficking could involve several situations, including those where victims could be forced to recruit or supervise others to engage in sexual activity for money, Brazeal said. There could be practical reasons why people repeatedly drive through the same area that have nothing to do with sex or criminal activity, she said.
Brazeal also said she wondered how much additional money and time it would take to push the proposal through, and whether the results justify the effort.
“This seems mainly to be aimed at slowing demand, but that’s a small part of it,” Brazeal said.
Councilor Jennifer Staubach Gates, chairman of the public safety committee of the city council and whose district borders Harry Hines Boulevard, said she initially supported the proposal. However, she believed the concerns about the plan were justified.
“We hear from constituents that they have major concerns about prostitution and DPD has told us that they need more tools in their toolkit to solve this problem,” said Gates. “At the same time, we have a responsibility to ensure that enforcement is not insensitive to our minority communities and that there are no unintended consequences.”
Mendez said she understood that prostitution is complicated. She hopes council members and police will take more initiative to talk to people in the area and find solutions.
“This has been a constant problem,” she said.
Staff writer Nic Garcia contributed to this report.