Dallas police are shuffling resources, again, to combat a spike in drive-by shootings that the city’s police chief blames on gang warfare, often fueled by social media.
So far this year, there have been 122 drive-by shootings reported, compared with 49 during the same period last year, Interim Police Chief David Pughes told the City Council’s public safety committee this week. Most of the shootings occurred in southern Dallas.
In January, three people were wounded in a drive-by shooting east of Fair Park. The following month, a teenager was shot in the head when gunfire from two cars struck an SUV in South Dallas. In April, a 22-year-old was fatally shot while watching street racers in the Stemmons Corridor.
And earlier this month, a wounded man drove to a gas station for help after someone shot into his home in Pleasant Grove.
Police and community leaders believe gang and drug activity are to blame for many of the drive-by shootings this year.
“We’ve seen instances in which there is a gang war that takes place on social media where one gang is challenging another gang,” Pughes said. “That ultimately ends up in a drive-by shooting at one of the places.”
Nonviolent crime — which includes home burglaries, shoplifting and theft — is lower so far this year compared with last year.
But violent crimes such as aggravated assaults and business robberies are on the rise, police say.
So far this year, Dallas police have investigated 1,775 aggravated assaults, including the drive-by shootings they find so worrisome. That’s 300 more than the same time last year.
Many of this year’s drive-by shootings have occurred in the southeast patrol division, which includes a chunk of council member Tiffinni Young’s district.
Young said she hears shots almost every night in her Buckner Terrace neighborhood. She said her constituents across District 7 complain of gunfire, too, but it’s often hard to tell whether anyone was hurt.
“You have seniors in our district that are living in fear, that they can’t come to the other side of the door,” Young said.
She and some of her City Council colleagues have pushed police officials in recent months to publicly acknowledge the city has a gang problem that needs to be addressed.
The police gang unit was nearly gutted under former Chief David Brown’s leadership a few years ago. Today the unit has 28 full-time officers and eight officers as liaisons, Pughes told the public safety committee meeting on Monday.
“I’m acknowledging that yes, there is definitely a gang problem … and we’re here to address it,” he told reporters after the meeting.
Those who live and work in the community have said for years that they’re disturbed about the city’s gangs and the violence they seem to breed.
A group of southern Dallas residents recently formed the Urban Specialists, a group that wants to reduce crime in the area. The group has found that today’s gang violence is fueled by social media, where rival gangs and their supporters post songs disrespecting each other.
“It’s not a song; it’s a threat with a beat,” said Pastor Omar Jahwar, an Urban Specialist member who grew up in South Dallas and leads a church downtown. “This has stopped being some kind of rap battle and has turned into regular old senseless violence.”
With summer just a few weeks away, Jahwar said he worries that crime will only increase.
“This is pre-summer behavior,” he said. “Imagine what happens when you have access to all-day idle time. It could really become dangerous.”
Dealing with that annual uptick in crime will be a challenge for the Police Department. The 3,163-officer force — which includes 98 recruits who are still in training — is the smallest it has been in nearly a decade.
The department has struggled to hire enough officers to make up for the hundreds of officers who have left in recent years. Uncertainty around the Police and Fire Pension fund have made cop jobs in Dallas a tough sell.
“We’re looking at a smaller workforce and less people that want to enter in law enforcement, so that makes it tough,” Pughes told reporters Monday.
The Urban Specialists are raising money to hire off-duty police officers to patrol South Dallas between 11 and 3 a.m. every day during the summer. They’re also trying to recruit youngsters as volunteers as a way to keep them out of trouble, Jahwar said.
The police chief said he’s asked each patrol division to identify specific crimes they’d like to drive down and to come up with a plan to meet those goals. The department will rely on overtime for officers and on volunteer reserve officers to help with the expected increase in crime over the summer.
Pughes said he isn’t as concerned about having enough officers to drive around and wait for something to happen this summer.
“My concern is making sure that when somebody calls, we’re there,” he said.