Morning News Spends Five Whole Minutes "Reporting" in its Lame Attack on a Car Wash

Categories: Schutze

data-journalism-handbook1.jpg
nyest.hu
Data journalism is cool, sure, but why won't the Morning News send its reporters down to the car wash for some old-fashioned face-to-face reporting?

Rudy Bush and Tod Robberson, writers on The Dallas Morning News editorial board, think it's a great thing that police are barricading a car wash on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to force the owner out of business. Yesterday to buttress their case against the owner and rebut my own defense of him, Bush published the results of his research into crime incidents at the address, summarized with a sarcastic jibe at me: "... if you don't believe drugs are sold there, or at least have been sold for many years there, I want to make some real estate deals with you."

I hate real estate deals. But I love research. I did look over Bush's work. By going back six years, he was able to come up with 10 crime reports he said indicated chronic drug activity at Jim's Car Wash, 2702 MLK Blvd. The first thing I noticed in looking at the individual reports was that four of them did not take place at the car wash, although one of those four, the case of a bicyclist pursued by police for failure to wear a helmet, did wind up there.

See also:
Morning News' Tod Robberson Pours on Vicious Lies in Unending Slime Attack on a South Dallas Car Wash
Dallas City Hall versus The Car Wash

A fifth case was the arrest of a person for loitering at the car wash: That person was arrested, according to the police report, because the owner of the car wash had filed a criminal trespass affidavit on the person. In other words, the owner of the car wash was trying to get police to keep the guy off his property.

The owner, Dale Davenport, has a decade-long history of trying to cooperate with police. Robberson, whose work on this issue has been fantastically sloppy, wrongly reports on today's Morning News opinion blog that Davenport began cooperating with police in 2009. He also suggests Davenport complained to the Legislature about negative publicity caused for his business by police raids.

If Robberson could calm down long enough just to read the clips on this story, he would see that Davenport went to the Legislature in 2004 on the advice of friends in law enforcement after his repeated attempts at cooperating with Dallas police hit a brick wall. At that time the city was pressuring Davenport to hire expensive private guards from a company owned by City Council member James Fantroy, now dead, who was later convicted of embezzlement and theft. The chairman of a Texas House investigative committee eventually compared the city of Dallas' treatment of Davenport to an organized extortion ring.

Back to Bush's crime reports. I was able to count only three of the 10 that were for drug sales at the car wash in a six-year period. That's one drug sale every two years, in an area famous for crack. Robberson and Bush want to argue that the car wash is the single greatest engine of crime in South Dallas and therefore deserves extra-legal and selective enforcement activities aimed at running it out of business. So the question here is context and balance: How bad is the car wash compared with businesses in the rest of the area?

The amount of research Bush devoted to this effort is what any member of the public could accomplish in approximately five minutes on the Dallas Police Department crime report website. Had Bush been willing to devote another 25 minutes to the effort, he would have been able to do what I did in half an hour.

I cut and pasted pages of incident report data from the police web page and put them into a simple Excel spreadsheet. Then I sorted the data by address. I looked for all incident reports from the first of this year to yesterday.

I found seven incidents this year at the car wash. It seems to me that makes Bush's count from 2008 low. If he was selecting reports only to find drug cases, then he made some mistakes by including, for example, things like counterfeit CD sales, bicycle helmet violations and loitering. But just for comparison, let's take my dates and numbers -- seven incident reports of all kinds at the car wash so far this year.

That puts the car wash one report ahead of the nearby Minyard supermarket, which has had six reports so far this year. It makes it even with the Martin Luther King Community Center just down MLK, which has had seven. Because the car wash is an open area covering two full commercial lots, it's probably more comparable physically to an area occupied by two service stations across the street from each other a few blocks away on Grand Avenue. Between the two of them, they have had 17 reports so far this year.

None of those enterprises has been barricaded by police in an attempt to drive them out of business. I am not aware of the Morning News ever editorializing to the effect that the Minyard store needs to be barricaded and run out of business. Maybe if they get one more crime report?

But the one that really attracted my attention was a short distance down Malcolm X in the same general neighborhood, a little grocery store called "Little World," which has had 20 incidents all on its own so far this year. Wow. Almost three times the count for the car wash, but no barricades have gone up there, either.

The other thing is this: The massive deployment of police personnel, equipment, dogs and other resources at the car wash isn't aimed at drug enforcement, anyway. What cops are doing at the car wash is writing tickets on people who agree to wash other people's cars for money, on the grounds that such activity violates the city's solicitation ordinance.

The city's solicitation ordinance is clearly written to prevent panhandling -- begging -- not offering to do work for money. And even at that, the ordinance cites the permission of the owner of a car wash as a specific defense against prosecution of anyone on that property for solicitation. All of the people who work at Jim's Car Wash have the permission of the owners to do so.

City Attorney Warren Ernst won't even acknowledge, let alone reply to my request for an explanation of this deliberate misuse of the ordinance. And really, I don't expect him to commit anything to writing about it, because when you put all of this in context with the city's known real estate agenda, this whole matter begins to smell more and more like an FBI case.

The pattern here -- plainly selective enforcement, deliberate misapplication of the law amounting to official oppression -- must be viewed against the mayor's stated goal of forcing the owners of the car wash to sell, probably to a nonprofit run by former City Council member Diane Ragsdale. That is what the Morning News editorial writers are defending so adamantly and so ham-fistedly.


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38 comments
russell.allison1
russell.allison1

I was already thinking that the lawsuit Mr Davenport will ultimately file against the city already had several zeros in it.  Is the DMN now in the process of painting a target on its ass for Davenport's legal team or is the paper somehow protected?

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Jason Blair fabricated a story but he was fired.

What's the Dallas Morning News excuse?

roo_ster
roo_ster

Keep after it. The big boys get away with so much they need a set back every once in a while.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

I drive by that car wash a lot.  I live about 800 yards from it.

Based upon a cursory ocular survey, it is HAS to be one of the easiest properties to police the City could possibly ask for.

You can see right through it from the street!  All the way to the rear of the property.  

It's not like a drug house boarded up and behind closed doors.  The cops don't need a search warrant to get inside.  There IS no inside (Ha!). It's a WYSIWYG for God's sake.  The patrol rides by, looks through the car wash, sees something suspicious - that places them on the property.  The cops don't need no stinkin' warrant.  And they don't stick out like sore thumb on a residential side street where the drug houses are.  It's a commercial artery and they go up and down it all the time.

So what is it about a coin-operated see-through car wash that presents such a greater policing conundrum than does every other building, vacant, boarded up or otherwise, that fronts the main drag?  What is the fixation? Why can't the City and the Dallas Morning News keep their hands off of it when CLEARLY . . . we are watching?

And it's not the cops.  They aren't the driver behind this.  Hell, they're embarrassed about it.  "When a stupid man is doing something he is ashamed of, he always declares that it is his duty." George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950), Anglo-Irish playwright, critic. Apollodorus, in Caesar and Cleopatra, act 3.  The rest of the cops just shake their head and follow procedure.


Anon.
Anon.

Jim,

If you really want to have fun, look at reported thefts at any Walmart. On a montly basis, area Walmarts may report thirty, forty, fifty or more cases of shoplifting, purse snatching, vehicle burgleries, and more. Shall we run all the Walmarts out of town as well since they are obviously crime magnets?

Tipster1908
Tipster1908

I haven't been to the car wash in question, so the only thing I can go on are the two stories that I'm being told about it. Jim's story is that this is a legitimate business, trying to work with the police to mitigate the crime that takes place there. It's not easy, because it's in a blighted neighborhood and people there are poor.

The DMN, on the other hand, wants us to simultaneously believe that these are the smartest and dumbest drug dealers in the world. Smartest because despite the massive amounts of attention the city has paid this property over the years, they've eluded all but a handful of actual drug arrests while brazenly operating an open air drug dealing operation. But then somehow they are so dumb that they routinely drop bags of drugs at the sight of police. They are dumb enough to let the car wash regulars divulge the drug operation to a white reporter who just happens upon the car wash. Aren't they supposed to be oppressing the locals and inspiring fear in other businesses? If you can just walk up and learn all their drug-dealing secrets with a little sweet talk, how menacing can these folks be? We've seen in video footage that this location is a community gathering spot where people bring their families.

The DMN's account just doesn't make an internally consistent argument about what kind of place this is. Sorry.

GeorgeB123
GeorgeB123

The DMN is missing the point; the car wash IS PART OF a high crime area, but they are a victim (not the cause) of the crime. The police should be protecting their effort to conduct legitimate commerce instead of attacking them through the arcane enforcement of a panhandling ordinance. 

The area has been crime-infested and drug-ridden for decades. You are criticizing the ONLY tax-paying legitimate commerce in the area. I read the police reports, there are far from alarming for the area. One arrest was for riding a bike without a helmet. My guess is that you would find far more drug crimes at any high school, either public or private, rich or poor. 

In light of the culture of the surrounding area,  the crimes at the car wash are relatively minor.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

The Ed Board can always claim his blog comments are his own.  The test will come if they let him write one everyone has to kiss the paper on.

BTW, great job on immediately dismantling the intent of the Bush league innuendo, as well as catching Robberson sleuthing after the fact to support a conclusion already made.

Now there's no way they can back off.  Which protects Davenport from the City.

I think this is the same mindset that initially defended the actions of Price in that il-fated editorial against the developer of the big industrial project in South Dallas.

The 'ol Ed Board appeared to be all for the legitimacy of a well-known concept found South of the border, known as "La Mordita" - The Bite.

That's why the Editorial Board never takes a risk (a stance) unless it's already been adjudicated, or is after the fact.

Normally, they would never allow Robberson to touch something like this.

MargaretHuntHill
MargaretHuntHill

Mr. Bush also relied on probable cause affidavits.  The audience for this form of literature is a judge considering whether to issue an arrest warrant.  The officer's incentive is to make the events or conditions in the affidavit read as bad as possible.  It's not exactly a fair way to decide whether a given location is problematic.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

"loitering..." The city of Dallas still enforces an anti-loitering ordinance?? I thought anti-loitering laws were declared unconstitutional back in the 1960s. 

Citations and arrests for loitering are the last resort of lazy cops and the first resort of oppressive governments.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Wish we had notice of his 'investigation'.

Mighta been neat conversation.

becoolerifyoudid
becoolerifyoudid

Any word on the quality or pricing of said alleged drugs?  I mean we have two papers, multiple reporters, and no one can tell me if its a good place to get some ganja.  This is a travesty.


JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

Update on Robberson's visit to the car wash: I don't think this was a totally journalistic visit. People at the car wash are now saying Robberson was fishing really hard to get them to say that car wash owner Dale Davenport was involved in the drug trade. They say they told him they had seen no evidence of that. Robberson's problem is that he wrote a blog item yesterday clearly intended to convey to readers that Davenport is a drug dealer. Now with a serious case of the morning-after sweats, he's down there scrounging for any kind of evidence to prove up his case retroactively. He's not down there reporting. He's down there trying to climb out of a bad bad hole. 

Hint to Belo lawyers: get this guy on ice. 

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

Isn't it shocking that the leaders of the community are not hitting the streets protesting the actions by the City resulting in many individuals being denied their opportunity to work at the car wash and make a living? [/sarcasm]

Well done Jim, the data from the police files proves the car wash is not a haven and being used for "selling drugs on the street" as the DMN alleges.

BTW the car wash is in the CR zoning district, which allows by right the use of "personal services". Seems that car detailing can be seen as a "Personal Services" use.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

Robberson reports that he has now visited the car wash

http://dallasmorningviewsblog.dallasnews.com/2014/06/the-drug-trade-from-the-car-washers-perspective-on-mlk.html/

where he says multiple persons on the lot confessed to him that it is a major drug center. I hope he taped it, because those same people are telling the owner they said, "Hell, no," when a strange white man showed up and asked them if they were involved in or knew people who were involved in the drug trade. These same people say they did not know who the man they spoke to was or who he worked for. It feels highly counter-intuitive to me that people at the car wash, speaking to a stranger, would open up quite this easily on such a difficult topic.

Robberson further reports that he has himself figured out exactly how the drug trade works at the car wash -- drugs brought from a nearby house to be sold at the car wash -- and that the people on site confessed that this was indeed the case.

I have never worked in a newsroom where a reporter would be able to publish a story like this without one hell of a lot of double-checking, like grabbing another reporter and saying, "Go down to the car wash and see what happens if you ask people how the drug trade works?" The reason for double-checking is the unhappy experiences many newspapers have had with people who come back to the paper with stories that seem way too good and were way too easy to get. I actually saw one of these reporters packed off to the wiggy ward when it was all said and done.

But let's say the intrepid Inspector Robberson really has cracked the drug trade at the car wash and is right about how it all works. What kind of comment is this on the police department, which has been surrounding the car wash with plastic barricades and ticketing car washers on bogus solicitation charges. Why weren't the cops able to figure out the drug dealing the way Inspector Robberson has and go in there and bust those damn drug dealers in that house he keeps talking about? What kind of cops are they, if Inspector Robberson could sleuth it all out in one quick visit? Frankly, I think the answer is that Inspector Robberson needs to go away for a little rest. 

doublecheese
doublecheese

Wow, this is the latest from the DMN:  Car washing at Jim’s pays considerably more than what the child prostitution ads used to pay for the writers at one of the local free tabloid papers.

Lakewooder
Lakewooder

DMN isn't going to let pesky little facts get in the way of a good story.

JFPO
JFPO

Very well said. I'm not used to that around here.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@GeorgeB123

They aren't missing the point.  They are trying to force the issue.  Both the Opinion crafters at the DMN and the City know the only way to take the property and cause change the Pulitzer committee can believe in is to prove Blight, then take the property through the power of eminent domain.

Without Blight, the City cannot act.  

Hence, the drug angle and constant phonied up nuisance violations.

And we're watching it in slow motion, right before our eyes.

JFPO
JFPO

They never will never let Robberson touch something like this again. What an amateur.

pak152
pak152

@bmarvel well here is a case from 1973

http://leagle.com/decision/1973620358FSupp262_1583.xml/ELLIS%20v.%20DYSON (case was dismissed) if that link doesn't work try this one http://bit.ly/1oWl1qm
here is an item for the 1993 Pittsburgh paper which references a Dallas anti-loitering law http://bit.ly/1oQHIOg

from Chicago http://trib.in/1loZSWe that struck down by SCOTUS in 1999


http://www.nytimes.com/2000/02/22/us/chicago-council-tries-anew-with-anti-gang-ordinance.html but then Chicago passed a new one

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

Oddly, the photograph attached to the article shows an awful lot of cars being washed.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@JimSX

I've been following this, and while both you reporters have valid points, you are both biased.

WaitWhat
WaitWhat

@JimSX Why weren't the cops able to figure out the drug dealing the way Inspector Robberson has and go in there and bust those damn drug dealers in that house he keeps talking about?

It's like when the cops pick someone up leaving a "known drug house".  Why don't they close down "known drug houses".

James080
James080

@JimSX 

Perhaps Dallas needs to hire Robberson as Police Chief. 

doublecheese
doublecheese

@JimSX If Robberson is right, there's no way the police haven't known about it.  If he's right, it can only prove that this has nothing to do with drugs at all.  

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

Don't be too despairing. The right lawyer can find her way to the trust funds.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@pak152 @bmarvel There are more recent cases, pak.

Police have historically used anti-loitering laws to deal with anybody they don't like for one reason or another.  Protestors, panhandlers, bearded hippie freaks, people who are not cops or investment bankers. The courts void these laws again and again, but like Weebles, they don't fall down. More than clubs and tazers and mace, they are the indispensable all-purpose weapon for enforcing docility. 

doublecheese
doublecheese

@primi_timpano I know, right?  What's it supposed to prove?  That there's lots of black people, therefore this place is dangerous?

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@TheRuddSki

Biased reportage isn't necessarily bad reportage.

Unsourced and unproven allegations most certainly is bad reportage.

pak152
pak152

@bmarvel I don't doubt there are more cases bill these were just examples to answer your question
 " I thought anti-loitering laws were declared unconstitutional back in the 1960s". was meant to be definitive or up to date

shall we send the loiterers to where you live?

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@doublecheese

The link I posted earlier about it basically being a street festival seemed valid.

The answer to that is co-operation between the Man and the community. On Sundays, shut down a couple of streets, let the party happen, it's all good.

But All week and/or late at night? Maybe not all good.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

They'll be headed your way next.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@pak152 @bmarvel Technically, pak, we're already loiterers here. We're expecting arrest at any moment.

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