More than 80 neighborhoods across Dallas pay for off-duty police patrols in a bid to keep their respective crime rates down. As proposed changes to that system have been leaked and the rumor mill activated, 80 neighborhoods are now feeling some angst about the fate of the popular — and effective — program.
ENP is short for Expanded Neighborhood Patrol, a citizen-paid police patrol system utilizing DPD officers that has worked to lower crime in many North Dallas neighborhoods since 1991, when the Dallas City Council first established the program.
There are more than 80 across Dallas, from Midway Hollow to a nascent patrol in Lower Greenville, Oak Cliff to Preston Trails. More ENPs are developing to combat crime and guarantee rapid response times given the current slow response DPD response rates. The ENPs are paid and administered by private citizens through homeowner associations.
In fact, even newly-elected mayor Eric Johnson enjoys an ENP in Forest Hills. Full disclosure: my husband started the first ENP in Preston Hollow, the Preston Hollow North Patrol, in 1991, and I am a past board member of our Northlake/Hillcrest Estates patrol. For many reasons, I have great respect for and strongly support the private neighborhood patrols.
The private neighborhood patrols also enhance property values, especially during periods of high Dallas crime. And they indisputably help lower crime, as this Dallas Morning News story from 2015 attests:
In North Oak Cliff, crime is down by about 60 percent across several neighborhoods that have paid for off-duty officers to patrol since 2007, said Russ Aikman, president of the North Oak Cliff United Police Patrol.
“It works because they are proactive rather than reactive,” Aikman said. On-duty officers, he said, are “typically so busy responding to one 911 call after another that they don’t have a whole lot of time just to be driving around looking for suspicious characters, suspicious vehicles.”
That effectiveness is why ENPs make a home and its neighborhood more attractive to buyers.
“ENPs absolutely enhance property values,” says Pam Freeman, who is marketing a home in Hillcrest Estates and has been on the police patrol board since its inception. “Numerous owners have bought in this neighborhood over gated communities because of the well-functioning patrol. And if people are having concerns about the rise in Dallas crime, the ENP puts their mind at ease completely.”
In Lochwood, property values have shot up. Median home prices from June 2004 to now are up 123 percent, from $168,000 to $375,000.
“Lots of other factors have added to that, but I think the fact that we prioritize community safety and our patrol has definitely helped foment these values,” says John Jones, an agent with Dave Perry-Miller and VP of the Lochwood Neighborhood Association. A vast majority of the LNA budget goes towards ENP, he says.
“We have had cases where the ENP officer has arrested criminals right in the neighborhood,” says Jones, “We fear adding an additional level of bureaucracy and higher cost for that bureaucracy could potentially discourage officers from wanting to work more hours — homeowners may be paying a lot more money for fewer hours.”
Off-duty police pay ranges from $32 to $50 an hour. Each police division has an administrative coordinator who ensures officers don’t work too many hours off-duty, currently 72 after a 40-hour work week. (The limit was 40 under Chief David Kunkle, but Chief David Brown expanded to 72, according to officers.) Homeowners also like knowing the regular crew working in their ‘hood — they often become friends with the officers.
“Prior to establishing an ENP in Midway Hollow, the crime rate was concerning,” said our Director of Audience Engagement, Bethany Erickson. “But once it was established more than a decade ago, the rate has stayed in the low double digits at the highest, and generally it’s those nuisance-but-not-dangerous crimes, and the occasional burglary and crime of opportunity.”
She adds: “We established such a close relationship with our patrol that we actually hired one of the officers to fulfill our requirement for an off-duty officer when we had our wedding at the Farmer’s Market.”
Police cars, gas, and salaries are all paid for by private neighborhood associations. In fact, the program brings revenue to the city — the associations pay to rent a patrol car at about $13.50 per hour. In 2015, the city collected more than $1.3 million for patrol car rentals, according to Dallas Morning News reports.
But now, based on an audit in November, Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall is considering a take-over of the ENPs. Rank and file officers are not happy. According to an email we obtained that was written by Michael Igo, Major of Police, City Manager’s Office Liason:
For the August 12th PSJC meeting, the Department will be presenting a briefing on off-duty employment performed by Dallas Police officers. The Department will be moving towards procuring a 3rd party vendor to have complete managerial oversight of the program. The oversight is necessary to maintain compliance and decrease liability for the City and the Department. There will be a nominal fee charged to the off-duty employer by the vendor. Additionally, new policy will be released limiting the number of hours worked from 72 to 40 hours a week. Officers and coordinators working ENPs now will not lose their assignments.
Mike Mata, president of the Dallas Police Association, told me that officers have no beef with the limiting of hours — he thinks 50 would be better, but can live with 40. It’s the sudden intervention of the third-party administrator that will add extra cost to the program for citizens and could open the door to future DPD controls of the program. An officer who did not wish to be named told us that this move would discourage police from participating in ENP programs due to the added level of bureaucracy and having to deal with a third party. Another said the Department may be doing this in an effort to steer officer overtime to the department, not the ENPs, because of the city’s tremendous officer shortage.
“I look forward to understanding why staff believes we need to utilize a 3rd party and what the cost to the off-duty program will be,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates. “It is my understanding the recommended changes will be briefed to the public safety committee in August.”
Gates responded to my queries Sunday about the changes, and explained DPD management’s concerns — compliance with issues and risks highlighted in the November audit, and possibly an earlier audit from 2005.
I encourage crime watch leaders to review and understand the risks and recommendations contained in the report. It describes the benefits of having an off-duty program as well as the necessity to having internal controls in place to assure any risks are mitigated. DPD management agreed to making the management changes necessary to comply with the issues and risks highlighted in the audit.
The chief, says Gates, is in the process of drafting the new policy regarding Off Duty Employment (ODE), with the final draft 30 to 45 days away, for briefing at the August 12 public safety committee.
There will be changes to the policy, but they are all not determined at this point. The Chief did share in an email to me this week that some of the changes to the policy would include reducing the number of overtime hours officers can work. Currently they can work 72 hours of off duty work and management is proposing 40 hours. The new policy will require all off duty employment to be registered. DPD is currently going through a procurement process for a 3rd party vendor to help manage ODE. Currently DPD does not have staff to monitor and audit ODE to the level it is required. Management has determined a 3rd party manager is necessary to maintain compliance and decrease liability for both the city and the police department. The Chief has communicated there will be a nominal fee for oversight management and this could impact the cost of ENP. It is unclear what that cost will be and who will be incurring the increase. Better understanding of the changes and impact will be understood when all policy changes are made public and in the briefing to the public safety committee.
Gates says the chief has assured her no officers, or their coordinators, will lose their ENP assignments.
“I will continue to advocate for ENP and neighborhood control of the program as well as keeping management costs at a minimum. It is my belief ENP benefits the entire city. I also support the Chief complying with the audit recommendations and believe that can be done without harming the ENP program,” Gates wrote.
We have reached out to Igo and Assistant City Manager Jon Fortune, currently out-of-office, for answers to several questions, including:
- How could a program that began in 1991 suddenly be “putting the Department at risk with compliance issues” in 2019?
- Why were these concerns not voiced first to the 80-odd ENP leaders across the city as a heads-up?
- Will the ENP be run by a third-party vendor, and if so, any idea who?
- Will the administrative costs be passed on to the neighborhoods using the ENPs currently, and if so, do you have a roundabout figure for what that cost would be?
- Will the State Fair staffing fall under this same scrutiny, and if so, what will that look like? And if not, why not?
- Does the department have a plan to address the backlash that is already happening as the ENP neighborhoods begin hearing about the changes? What will the chief do to reassure them?
We’ve also heard from officers who question changing a popular program wholesale when it gives them a steady secondary stream of income, especially as the department grapples with manpower shortages and morale problems.
“It’s costing the department nothing, and is, in fact, enriching it,” says Officer Roy Watkins. “And it allows DPD officers to budget for extras for their families.”
To be continued…