Posted on Tue, Sep. 02, 2008
Police stations don't offer bubble of safety
By ALEX BRANCH and JEFF CLAASSEN
From her front porch, Alma Abundez can see the police cars parked outside the Haltom City Law Enforcement Center, and they make her feel secure.
No criminals would lurk that close to police headquarters, she said.
Actually, they would. Abundez was surprised to learn that more than 40 crimes, including violent crime such as assault, have occurred within a quarter-mile of the Police Department since mid-October.
In fact, a Star-Telegram analysis of crime in Tarrant County found that, in general, most crimes are as likely to occur near police stations as near bars or sexually oriented businesses. The 40 crimes near the Haltom City station are about the average for police stations.
That is the kind of information readers can find on the Star-Telegram’s crime Web site, dfwcrime.star-telegram.com, which debuts today. People can enter an address and view a map of crimes committed in the area each week.
Abundez, 30, said she was surprised to learn that so many crimes occur close to police departments.
"You feel so safe being close by," she said.
Police presence’s impact
Perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising, said Dr. Alex del Carmen, chairman of the department of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Texas at Arlington.
In the 1970s, a well-known study of whether a police presence deterred criminals, called the Kansas City Patrol Experiment, found that it had limited if any impact, he said.
"We have incidents where police cars are burglarized," del Carmen said. "That, in itself, is a sign that police presence doesn’t have the effect that perhaps some believe it does.
"You also have to remember that when officers go to a substation, they don’t patrol around the substation," he said. "They do that somewhere else."
The Star-Telegram analysis found similar rates of theft and burglary around police stations and near bars and sexually oriented businesses.
Rates for more violent crimes, like assault and robbery, were also similar.
Homicide rates, however, were higher in the vicinity of bars.
Plenty of reasons
Police said there are plenty of reasons for crime around police stations.
"A lot of crimes are spur of the moment," said Lt. Blake Miller, an Arlington police spokesman. "They might not even realize they’re a half-block from a police station. Those people aren’t driving around, planning where to do it."
Sgt. J.D. Stanford of the Fort Worth Police Department concurred. Last year, an officer arrested a man for indecent behavior in the parking lot at Station 5 on East Lancaster Avenue.
"Some people do what they do wherever and whenever the urge hits them," he said.
Some stations are near dense retail areas, where there are always a lot of property crimes. Wal-Mart and Target stores — and many other retail stores — sit within a quarter-mile of the Hurst Police Department at Airport Freeway and Precinct Line Road.
The Police Department gets about 75 calls a month from within a quarter-mile of the station.
When crime doesn’t pay
Committing crimes next to police stations has gotten some crooks caught. Police at Station 3 in north Fort Worth have nabbed several burglars after alarms sounded at Diamond Hill-Jarvis High School in recent years, said the station commander, Lt. J.T. Morgan. The school is a half-block from the station, from which officers come and go at all hours.
Abundez, who lives next to the Haltom City station, said that even if the sight of a police station doesn’t discourage crime, they’re good for peace of mind.
She said, "I’ll take a police station there over a bar any day."