Hiring Off-Duty Police Empowers Neighborhoods


Rather than defund the police, re-fund the police by having neighborhoods hire off-duty uniformed police officers and police squad cars to patrol their neighborhoods for periodic four-hour shifts. The Dallas Morning News Sunday, July 12, 2020, editorial was right on point when it stated “…an empowered people are people who can forge a society of mutual respect.” Neighborhoods hiring off-duty uniformed police offers changes the dynamic from residents feeling vulnerable and abused to feeling empowered, protected and proud.

The pandemic shuts everyone in. Fifty years of top-down planning by density promoting New Urbanism shuts many people out—shut out from living in a safe neighborhood, shut out from owning a home, shut out from good schools, and shut out from good jobs or good food sources nearby. One could argue that recent violent protests across the country are about more than just the egregious and dangerous behavior of some bad police officers. It is also about being shut out of basic opportunities that predominantly white neighborhoods enjoy, including safe neighborhoods. Safer neighborhoods are at the core of opportunity. As Jason L. Riley writes in the Wall Street Journal, “Safer neighborhoods help facilitate upward economic mobility….”

The Munger Place Historic District is a good example of a very dangerous neighborhood that quickly became much safer due to police presence. In the 1970s the Dallas City Council and the Urban Housing Task Force identified the Munger Place area as the worst in Dallas and with the highest crime rate. At the time D Magazine ran a cover story on the meanest bar in Dallas which happened to be found within the 12-block boundaries of Munger Place.

Despite the bad neighborhood, a few brave souls bought dilapidated houses to fix up for themselves, and afterward a homeowners’ association emerged and a nonprofit Munger Place Alliance Against Crime hired off-duty uniformed police officers and to pay the city for the use of their squad cars in order to patrol the neighborhood at random times in four-hour increments. The police officers met with the homeowners every month and reported their findings and experiences. Instead of a resident seeing a police car in the neighborhood and experiencing a tremble of apprehension, now a resident would break into a smile because the police were there on behalf of the neighborhood. They were not there to shake someone down for a minor infraction. The homeowners’ voluntary contribution of $50 per month was considered a bargain. Crime in the neighborhood plummeted. Criminals took notice of this surge of police presence in the neighborhood. When the police officers were on city time and taking a 10-minute break, they knew that Munger Place was the perfect place to park under a shade tree to have their coffee and enjoy the smiles and waves from neighbors.

When homeowners and residents of crime-plagued neighborhoods hire off-duty uniformed police officers, the neighborhood begins to enjoy the service based patrol presence common in many safe neighborhoods. The homeowners get to know the police officers that they directly hired. The police officers become friends and a source of comfort, not a threat. Also, police officers often don’t even live in the city where they work, much less live in the neighborhood of their beat. Being hired independently by a neighborhood gives the officers an adopted neighborhood in the city of which they can be proud. These positive interactions spill over to other on-duty officers who patrol the neighborhood and the goodwill spills over to nearby neighborhoods.

Major crime would go down in lower income, crime-plagued neighborhoods that hire off-duty uniformed police officers just as minor crime has gone down when safer neighborhoods engage off-duty police officers. Low-income neighborhoods hiring off-duty uniformed officers would allow crime based neighborhoods to enjoy the service based police presence that safe neighborhoods enjoy.

How do low-income homeowners’ associations afford to set up a neighborhood nonprofit and to pay the off-duty uniformed police officers? Recently, there has been an outpouring of support and sympathy across the country for those who live in low-income neighborhoods and have the dual threat of being killed by criminals or abused by police. I am confident some of the attorneys with signs in their front yards expressing support for those in lower income neighborhoods would donate their time to set up a nonprofit that dictates that 100% of donations are paid to police for rent of their squad cars and to protect the neighborhood homeowners and residents from personal liability. Further, the city could provide grants to neighborhoods that were organized to hire off-duty police officers.

In addition, if funds are available, the police department itself might set aside part of their budget to fund grants to specific neighborhoods for the purpose of hiring off-duty police officers.

Furthermore, nonprofits and churches might allocate money that would pay the invoices of the off-duty police officers hired by low-income neighborhoods. Middle income and higher income neighborhoods that already have an apparatus for paying off-duty police officers in their neighborhoods might agree to also fund shifts for off-duty police hired by low-income neighborhoods that they have become aligned with. Involving the larger community shows respect and concern for people in low-income neighborhoods and will actually create a positive effect in these neighborhoods. Of course, if the residents in the neighborhoods contributed even a modest $5 per month towards the hiring of the off-duty police officers, they would feel more empowered and more involved.

More needs to be done than just neighborhoods hiring off-duty police officers and their squad cars. The tyranny of top-down decision-making of New Urbanism that dictates where low-income people should live, work and send their children to school needs to stop. The model concentrates wealth, discourages homeownership for low-income families, while subsidizing developers for their purchase of affordable homes that they will tear down to develop apartments, often squeezing potential low-income home buyers out of the market.

The sometimes unholy alliance between police and school unions with urban politicians adds to the lack of freedom, safety and success for low-income neighborhoods. Bad cops physically assault the minority populations. Dangerous criminals prey on low-income neighborhoods. Bad teachers intellectually assault minority populations. The bottom line is the quality of life for many communities of color is declining, not flourishing. The solution advocated by some business and commercial real estate groups is moving lower-income people to subsidized apartments in more expensive safer neighborhoods. I am not sure people of color are actually safer in a “safe” neighborhood. Rather than the government paying to extract people out of their neighborhoods, why not spend the same amount of money on new curbs, streets, sidewalks, streetlights, parkway trees, and internet connectivity in low-income neighborhoods? Why not subsidize mortgages for affordable home purchases rather than subsidize the land acquisition of developers of apartments that drive up the price of affordable homes?

Neighborhoods with a greater percentage of home ownership radiate stability and safety. Homeowners are the eyes and ears of a neighborhood. They know the neighborhood best. Homeowners repel trouble, not invite it in. I have never seen homeowners invite or encourage agitators and violent protestors to vandalize their homes or their neighbors’ businesses. Even the recent City of Dallas curfew boundary ended at the neighborhoods rezoned single-family 40 years ago. When a neighborhood becomes safer, homeowners are more likely to fix up their homes, rental house owners are more likely to improve their properties, new homeowners are more likely to invest in the neighborhood. Desired neighborhood businesses take notice.

For more than 30 years, neighborhoods that hire off-duty uniformed police officers have been successful in reducing crime in neighborhoods. Hiring off-duty uniformed police officers truly empowers the neighborhoods to provide a greater level of protection and dignity, and makes for a neighborhood that will become a magnet for more positive changes and opportunities.

Off-duty uniformed police officer programs empower neighborhoods with positive relationships with police can be imitated and implemented quickly. When neighborhoods begin hiring off-duty uniformed police officers and their squad cars to patrol their neighborhoods, these neighborhoods will begin to flourish.

Douglas Newby, http://significanthomes.com/ was co-founder of the Munger Place Alliance Against Crime (Rent-A-Cop program) when Munger Place was emerging from the depths of being the most deteriorated, dangerous neighborhood in Dallas to a now beautiful, safe historic district. He is a real estate broker who has written extensively about Dallas neighborhoods and revitalization.

Photo credit: Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Thomas Spangler, under Public Domain