The Dallas City Council unanimously approved expanding a law that will allow police to stop and cite drivers spotted circling a section of the Northwest part of the city. The goal is to combat prostitution and sex trafficking there.
The “no cruising zone” ordinance will apply to a roughly 2 1/2-mile stretch that includes Harry Hines Boulevard, Shady Trail, Walnut Hill Lane and Southwell Road. Between 4:30 p.m. and 8 a.m., drivers seen circling certain streets in the largely commercial business district — at least three times in two hours — could face a fine of up to $500.
The no-cruising rule already existed for parts of Deep Ellum and the West End Historic District, but it’s used there to cut down on traffic and noise.
Police have called the Harry Hines Boulevard corridor the “epicenter” of prostitution in the city, describing the law’s expansion as possibly their best shot at targeting pimps they believe are the root cause of the illegal activity.
But opponents of the expansion said they are concerned the ordinance could lead to possible civil rights violations that would disproportionately impact people of color. They also worry that people being forced into sex work could end up being targeted instead and that the enforcement will push the illegal activity to other parts of the city.
Council member Omar Narvaez, who represents the district the Harry Hines Boulevard corridor encompasses, was one of those critics when the proposal came before the City Council on Nov. 11. He led calls to delay consideration of the plan for a month after raising concerns that drivers could be racially profiled by police.
On Wednesday, Narvaez said he’d since gone on a ride-along with police there at night.
The experience changed his mind.
He described watching women and girls as young as 10 forced to solicit sex for money, and that he saw officers providing them help in the hopes of getting them out of the situation.
“These women deserve resources and they deserve help,” Narvaez said.
The council approved amendments that Narvaez suggested. One will allow the law to expire Jan. 1, 2022, with the option for council members to extend it.
Also, the police department will have to collect data on the impact of their efforts by Dec. 1, 2021. That information would be given to the council’s public safety committee.
Narvaez also suggested that signs be posted at the borders of the intersections that fall into the no-cruising zone to make the public aware of it.
People repeatedly driving through the area for work, lost or for reasons other than soliciting sex wouldn’t be ticketed, he said. The police department doesn’t have enough officers who “can sit there and watch an intersection for two hours,” he said.
Council members Adam Medrano, Chad West, Cara Mendelsohn and Adam Bazaldua, who described the no cruising expansion last month as “another example of a modern day stop-and-frisk,” also said they went on ride-alongs with the police department’s vice unit and were now on board with the ordinance.
Bazaldua described his ride-along as an “eye-opening experience” and that he learned the people forcing others into sex work are often driving around the area.
“They are also cognizant of being known,” Bazaldua said. “So they are stopping at every stop sign for three seconds, they are putting their blinker on before every turn. They’re really limiting any opportunity that the officers have to use the tools that are used in their chest.”
Dallas Police Maj. John Madison said officers work with nonprofits to offer free testing for sexually transmitted diseases to people involved in prostitution or sex trafficking. In prostitution cases, they offer victims the opportunity to talk to an outreach worker not involved with law enforcement.
“Usually what we see is it takes two to three arrests or interactions with the police before they accept the help,” Madison said.