Increase in various types of crime sparks fear, people use different ways to stay safe
As she looked at the live footage from her Ring doorbell near the end of September, over 5,000 miles away from home, ESD parent Betsy Stephenson saw two men desperately trying to open her front door with guns and zip-ties in their hands. With her two teenagers at home alongside a sitter, and Stephenson and her husband away on vacation, she immediately called the sitter and told her to turn on the alarm while Stephenson called the University Park police.
“I [later] learned that these two individuals had been up and down our street doing the same thing to clusters of houses,” Stephenson said. “The common thread was that people had cars out front, which was an invitation to the thieves who [were looking] for keys to homes, purses, laptops, tools and jewelry left in the cars.”
Stephenson found comfort in knowing that her home was not a premeditated target, as the men attempted to break into her neighbors’ homes as well. The University Park police later identified the men after receiving multiple videos from Park Cities residents.
“The police are doing extra drive-by’s for a few weeks and have other agencies on board,” Stephenson said. “But frankly, their hands are full. Crime is up.”
In the past two years, there has been an increase in crime across the nation. In 2020, there were about 5,000 more murders than in 2019, according to the New York Times. And 77 percent of murders in 2020 were committed with a firearm. Analysts hypothesize that possible factors could be stress from the pandemic, an increased distrust between people and police and a general increase in firearm carrying. A study conducted by the National Firearms Survey found that around 3 million people carry a concealed gun in America every day, and 9 million people carry a gun at least once a month.
On Sept. 1, House Bill 1927 went into place in Texas that removed the previously required license to carry a gun. Advocates for this law claim it’s their constitutional right to bear arms, while opposers argue that the law will foster more gun violence. Despite the majority of Texas voters opposing permit-less carry, at the bill signing in June, Gov. Greg Abbott insisted that the bill protected the freedoms of Texans.
“You could say that I signed into law today some laws that protect gun rights,” Abbott said during the bill signing. “But today, I signed documents that instilled freedom in the Lone Star State.”
This law inspired some Texas women to enroll in gun safety classes and purchase personal handguns. Past experiences have also influenced people’s decisions in carrying pepper spray. Particularly, there has been an increase in girls carrying pepper spray due to alarming incidents.
Senior Mary Grace Altizer has carried pepper spray since her sophomore year. After a man approached her in a Starbucks and tried to get her in his car, she started carrying pepper spray.
“It really terrified me and made me really anxious, so I started carrying pepper spray in the event that if something like that happened again, I could protect myself,” Altizer said. “I think it is really important to try to be proactive about protecting yourself because you never know what is going to happen. Pepper spray is an easy addition to your car keys or to keep in your purse.”
According to a Nov. 1 poll of 172 students, 13 percent carry pepper spray and 24 percent carry self defense items.
As an additional result of the pandemic, prisons released inmates after the virus spread rapidly within prisons. In Austin alone, 7,000 low-level prisoners were temporarily set free due to Covid-19, according to KXAN, a local Austin news channel. ESD’s Director of Campus Security Jody Trumble discerns that the pandemic resulted in interesting crime trends as the nation was on lockdown. With everyone stuck at home, various crimes were impossible.
“Burglaries were down (people were home and able to watch their things), thefts were down (stores were closed and people were home), violent crime was up (stress, frustration, and mental health issues as well as people spending more time together),” Trumble said. “I think reporting is a little skewed here since many departments were not making arrests out of fear of the virus spreading in jails, and it’s a little early to determine how much effect the pandemic had on overall crime.”
According to the Neighborhood Scout, a real estate website, Dallas is safer than only six percent of cities in the United States. Dallas citizens have a one in 29 chance of being a victim of a property crime, including burglary, theft, and car theft, while Park Cities citizens have a one in 47 chance.
Preston Hollow resident and ESD parent Alexandra Lovitt’s car was recently broken into. While attending an exercise class, the passenger side window of her car was smashed.
“Even though my car was locked and in a busy shopping center, the criminal felt brazen enough to smash my window in broad daylight,” Lovitt said. “It seems that these types of petty crimes are occurring more frequently and more boldly with little to no fear of consequences.”
The Dallas Chief of Police, Eddie Garcia, recently embarked on the next phase in the Dallas Police Department’s violent crime reduction plan. It includes short-term, medium-term and long-term objectives such as targeting drug houses and working to end poverty. Additionally, the domestic violence unit will expand and they will resume home visits. Though Dallas has seen a 2.7 percent increase in aggravated assault compared to 2020, violent crime rates are decreasing in comparison to last year.
Due to increases in crime in the past few years, many Preston Hollow and Parks Cities citizens have turned to the Nextdoor app for updates on crime in the Dallas community. The app connects people in the same neighborhood and allows them to post updates and pictures onto a news feed. Posts about items for sale, lost pets and recent thefts or burglaries frequently take over the feed. Although at times, the app brings frustration when it gets overrun by political posts.
“Instead of focusing on crime prevention when someone posts about a petty crime, someone turns it into why all the city officials should be fired,” ESD parent Allison Horton said. “However, I do like to know about some nearby crimes, like break-ins.”
Trumble suggests that there are various ways to avoid becoming a victim. Even the smallest things can help to lower the risk. “There are many small acts that one can take to help not be a victim. Simple things like don’t leave [valuables] on the seat of the car, lock doors, ensure there’s adequate lighting, walk with purpose and look around (not with your nose in your phone), travel in groups, etc.,” Trumble said. “But with regard to