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By Dan X. McGraw
Dallas Morning News

DALLAS - Dennis Bell has seen violent crime and drugs keep people from leaving their homes in West Dallas for years.
But in less than a month, Mr. Bell said, he has seen the neighborhood start to change as city officials have cracked down on everything from stray dogs to weapons under a pilot program aimed at turning around part of the troubled area.
"This should have been started a long time ago," said Mr. Bell, 63, a Dallas resident whose parents live in the targeted area. "This is and can be a great place to live."
The new initiative, which began Oct. 6, brings together the forces of various city departments - from code compliance to police - to zero in on an area with dilapidated houses, trash on the streets and homeless people living in vacant lots.
If the program succeeds, the city hopes to use it as a model in other rundown areas, Dallas police Sgt. Sheldon Smith said.
"These are quality-of-life issues that have been acceptable, but they shouldn't be," Sgt. Smith said. "We have to not only protect people but also serve them."
To start the program, city employees went door to door asking residents what city services they needed or wanted.
The top needs were clear: more police patrols and more visits from Dallas animal services and code compliance officers, said Melva Franklin, director of West Dallas Weed and Seed, a federal program that is working with the city on the pilot.
City officials used the survey data to set their course.
In 10 days, they picked up 159 stray dogs and issued violations of city property codes on 157 structures, according to statistics provided by Sgt. Smith. Police made 223 misdemeanor arrests.
The Dallas Health and Human Services staff also connected residents to crisis outreach workers and referred some people to mental health services.
"We are talking about transforming neighborhoods; talking about transforming communities and transforming individuals," Ms. Franklin said. "It is a process of teaching and learning."
But not everyone thinks the pilot will help the area. Dennis McMorris, 39, a resident, said the drug problem needs to be solved with education, not increased patrols.
"There is too much history of being disrespected," Mr. McMorris said. "West Dallas is a project. It isn't a quick fix, but that's what they want."
City crime statistics show crime in the entire area has declined by 14 percent in the last year. Sgt. Smith said he knows the area still has a drug problem, but he hopes the problems will subside.
City officials have continued to devote services to the area and have picked out two other sites in West Dallas for possible future pilots.
"By far, we are not finished," he said. "West Dallas is changing; there is no doubt about that. The change is coming."

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