Deputy Chief Vernon Hale recently took over as top cop at the Dallas Police Department’s Southwest Patrol Division, which includes our neighborhood. Hale grew up in Oak Cliff, and graduated from Kimball High School in 1988. If the name sounds familiar, it’s probably because Hale’s name has been in the news a lot — he was a spokesman for the department for two years.

What is your background?
I’ve been with the department 19 years. I graduated from the academy in 1992, and I started my training here at the Southwest Patrol Division. I was an undercover narcotics officer, a field-training officer, primarily in the southeast and central patrols. Then I was promoted to sergeant. I was a community police officer in the southeast patrol, and then a lieutenant in the central patrol. Then I was in narcotics right after the fake drug scandal. I was in internal affairs. I was a public information officer. I was at the Dallas Police Academy. And then I was promoted to deputy chief in August.

What are the biggest crime issues in our neighborhood?
Typically, in southwest, it’s burglaries. Property crimes make up 84 percent of crime in the city, although violent crime gets most of the press. We’re getting much fewer violent crimes. Crime is down 11.4 percent overall for the year [over 2009]. Shoplifting is a big issue. It sounds minor, but it can be significant, especially around the holidays. We’ve got very active crime watch and homeowners associations, and they do a good job of reporting suspicious activity, and that helps lower crime.

What are you working on in 2011?
[Dallas Police] Chief [David] Brown’s vision is called Community Policing 2.0. There have been two basics to law enforcement: arresting people and putting them in jail, and then community policing. You all in the community know much more than we’ll ever know. So we’re going to engage you even more in what we call ‘actionable intelligence’. For example, I might know that 123 Main Street is a drug house. But if I go talk to people in the community, I might find out, yeah, this is a drug house, but the source of all the drugs is really this house around the corner. If we don’t ask the right questions, then we won’t get the right answers. We want to find some of those things that are hidden in the community. So that’s our biggest project for 2011. Also, this is our seventh consecutive year of crime reduction, and it’s only the second time that’s ever happened. We’re looking for an eighth consecutive year of crime reduction, which we think would be the first time that’s happened in the city of Dallas.

So how do you keep the crime rate low?
Putting the right people in jail. There is a percentage of people who are prolific criminals. There’s the kid who breaks into a car to get an iPod or something, but then there are people who [break into cars] for a living. We want to identify the habitual criminals. The more we put those people in jail, the lower the crime rate is going to be. You have to focus on people, places and behaviors. Chief Brown always says, “Random patrol gets random results”. If we’re just out there driving around, we’re not going to be effective. The more we stay focused and look for patterns in those people, places and behaviors, then we keep crime down.

Do you expect the change in alcohol laws to affect crime in Oak Cliff?
I get asked that a lot. You know, when the concealed handgun law was passed, we thought we’d see a rise in gunplay, and there really hasn’t been. It’s hard to make a prediction until we see what happens.

What are you doing differently from how your predecessor, Rick Watson, ran the ship?
Every commander looks at the map a little bit differently. I came in, and tried to be as unbiased as possible. He was already down significantly [as far as crime rates] when I got here. So my job is to keep the train on the tracks, and see if we can make any improvements. I hope that I’ll bring new energy and new communication with the officers, and keep them engaged in the community. The wonderful thing about southwest is that they’ve always been known for taking care of their business. It’s an awesome division to work at, quite frankly.