Trending Topics

Dallas PD vice unit to return after year off the streets

Assistant Chief Paul Stokes said the new version of the unit initially will focus on street-level prostitution, human trafficking and gambling in illegal game rooms

By Cassandra Jaramillo
The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS — City Council members on Monday learned one thing for sure: The Dallas Police Department’s beleaguered vice unit will soon be back in action after a year off the streets.

But the rest of the details were a little murky to some members of the council’s Public Safety & Criminal Justice Committee.

“I don’t totally understand where we were and where we are now,” said Adam McGough, the committee’s chairman.

McGough’s confusion was echoed by other committee members, who wanted to know how the department’s new approach differed from the unit’s previous iteration — and why the vice unit was disbanded in the first place.

Assistant Chief Paul Stokes said the new version of the unit initially will focus on street-level prostitution, human trafficking and gambling in illegal game rooms. Stokes said the vice unit will have a “victims-centric approach,” which means it will offer services to those engaged in prostitution and human trafficking survivors.

Several council members said their districts had problems that the vice unit will need to address. Jennifer Staubach Gates, who represents parts of northern Dallas, said she has seen more prostitutes on Harry Hines Boulevard.

Police have reported 137 prostitution offenses through Oct. 31 this year compared with 46 cases during the same period last year.

Vice crimes in the past year have been the responsibility of narcotics and patrol officers. Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall in November 2017 disbanded the vice unit amid what she called “serious issues.” Since then, she has given few specific details about what those issues were.

Stokes on Monday said an investigation of the unit revealed policy violations, accounting discrepancies, inadequate processing of evidence and a general lack of accountability. But Stokes stopped short of naming any officers accused of violations. He also said the investigation so far has not resulted in criminal charges of officers.

The officers who were once assigned to vice will not be returning to the unit, officials said at the meeting. The new vice unit’s operations will start on Wednesday with at least 21 officers.

Stokes added the vice unit won’t actually be back on the streets on Wednesday; the squad’s new members will have to first undergo training.

Dallas Police Association president Mike Mata said the department lost a lot of vice experience when Hall reassigned the officers. Mata said he’s concerned about getting the new officers up to speed.

“I know the new detectives who are filling these roles are going to do their best,” Mata said. “I hope the department will give them the tools to succeed.”

Stokes said the previous vice unit “lacked direction.” Diversion programs aren’t new to the department, but police officials said they’d improve their efforts to use more resources than handcuffs on prostitutes.

Hall said too often, a prostitute often returns to work after they get out of jail.

“If arresting a prostitute was going to change their behavior, we would have changed it already,” Hall said.

The department’s plan is to work with local nonprofits and implement diversion opportunities, although officials said arrests might still be made in certain cases.

“At the end of the day, if that investigation leads to a criminal offense there will be an arrest,” Stokes said.

Stokes said police have found through experience that law enforcement and nonprofits have to deal with victims multiple times “before a person wants to take that first step to break that cycle.”

“We believe that’s going to be the approach to sustain change here in Dallas,” Stokes said.

Stokes also said the new unit will have new accountability measures similar to the narcotics division with compliance supervisors.

“This will give us a great deal of accountability that we did not have,” Stokes said.

But council members said police officials were still too vague in their descriptions of both the problems and the solutions. Some wanted to know what key metrics could be used to determine the success of the new unit.

“I’m curious how this new system is so much better than the old,” said council member Philip Kingston. “Increased oversight doesn’t really mean a lot to me.”

And Gates, the northern Dallas council member, said she still wanted to know more about the problems that caused the overhaul in the first place.

“The philosophy sounds good, but ... I don’t think we’re hearing what happened in the past to the vice unit, and why it wasn’t effective,” Gates said.