On a recent day in a new South Dallas courtroom, more than a dozen defendants received a different brand of justice – swift with the offer of a helping hand. They were summoned to the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center to appear before Municipal Judge Victor Ortiz in Dallas’ first Community Court, dedicated to tackling minor street offenses that, if left unchecked, tend to lead to more serious crimes that threaten the social fabric of communities.
The court, which opened Oct. 1, handles Class C misdemeanors, such as public intoxication, possession of drug paraphernalia, assaults not involving weapons, illegal dumping and code violations, reports the Dallas Morning News. Court dates are within a week of ticketing, there’s no mail-in fine option, and the punishment is usually community service to be performed the very next day. The court follows a national trend in confronting low-level crime, said Julius Lang of the New York City-based Center for Court Innovation. New York City started the concept in 1993. Other cities with community courts include Austin, Hartford, Conn., and Indianapolis.