“Rolling Up on Dixon Circle”


“This summer, racial hate left holes in the heart of Dallas. Four summers ago, it could have burned the place down… Not much has been heard from the tiny neighborhood [of Dixon Circle] since then… We found nothing healed…”

An old policing colleague of mine, Chief Larry Hesser, alerted me to an interactive article in the Dallas News which takes a deep look at a troubled neighborhood in Dallas — Dixon Circle.

Take a look at the online article. I wrote Larry my initial response to what I had read. What’s yours? Can the thousands of “troubled neighborhoods” in America be saved? What should be the role of police in these neighborhoods? I have some ideas that I shared with Larry.

Dear Larry,

I sense we may be a small group of former cops that see the “big picture” and the “long, slippery slope” that has caused and maintained the “Dixon Circles” of America.

My immediate observation is that what we once thought is still the way forward (intimate, neighborhood and problem-oriented policing). But it got hijacked by 9/11, militarization, and the nasty “War on Drugs.” I remember saying in the 1980s that the War on Crime was, in effect, a War on America — specifically Black America.

We know that intimate, neighborhood-oriented policing adheres to the precepts of Procedural Justice and it works because it is about building relationships. We also know that just putting a cop in a neighborhood doesn’t work unless we are able to EMPOWER that cop to make improvements; in short, to make a noticeable difference; to be an advocate for those whom that cop serves.

I remember arguing with my mayor that our neighborhood cops needed to be able to directly contact the streets department about pot-holes, garbage dumping, weed-control and other things that directly impacted the lives of neighborhood residents. (Today, I would add that cops need to be able to help residents make sure their kids are reading at age-level, have recreational outlets, and job opportunities.)

My critics say that I expect too much from police. My response is that we expect too little of them – that they have the best opportunity to organize their neighborhoods and improve the quality of life within them. My understanding of, and in coaching our neighborhood officers in the 1980s and 90s, is that they were, in effect, to be little “chiefs of police.”

Sgt. Sheldon Smith

I sense that Sgt Sheldon Smith (in the Dallas News article) understood this and that is why he literally shakes his head in dismay today. I am sure he hears from younger officers that times have changed, it’s more dangerous out there, and so on… (All this, of course, cannot be supported by existing data.)

Yes, I am afraid things have changed, but it’s not the time that has changed as much as police leadership and, therefore, the cops. The Dallas News captures the problem all too well…

“Dallas police were shooting someone every few weeks in 2012. Anger in poor, black communities was ready to combust before the July afternoon when a cop chased an unarmed man through a crumbling neighborhood called Dixon Circle, shot him and killed him.

“Hundreds of people, some armed, filled the street that evening—held back from the body by a rampart of armored police and the pleas of a Dallas City Council member who feared Dixon’s fury might ignite the city.

“When the night was over, police promised to win back Dixon Circle’s trust: clear out the drug corner that blights it and meet the people who built it. Reporters covered a few police-hosted meetings and basketball games, and not much has been heard from the tiny neighborhood since then…

We found nothing healed.

“Police still pass through almost every day — rolling up after a 911 call or gunshots, rolling out until the next emergency—leaving anger, wariness or disappointment in their wake. And yet, on rare occasions when an officer lingers past the latest crisis, he might find a friend in Dixon Circle…”

Nothing healed… And not much has been heard from the neighborhood since

Did anyone decide to take on Dixon Circle as a model, a case-study in which the true principles of neighborhood-oriented policing could be exercised? Instead, many cities lay low and wait for the next shooting and another exercise of community outrage!

In the meantime, “Not much has been heard from the tiny neighborhood since then…” Not much from the Dixon Circles, the Fergusons, the Baltimores, the St. Anthony Villages, the Baton Rouges of American, until…

  • On an encouraging note, Dallas continues its commitment to neighborhood policing HERE.