Suspect in Dallas rape case served as "the eyes of the community" in neighborhood watch despite lengthy criminal history

Van Dralan Dixson

Updated 8:15 a.m. EST

(CBS) - Van Dralan Dixson, a suspect in a string of recent South Dallas rapes, served on a neighborhood watch group as "the eyes of the community" despite having an extensive criminal history that includes multiple charges of aggravated robbery.

The 38-year-old Dixson, who has reportedly been linked by DNA evidence to four of nine sexual assaults alleged since June and is being sought by police, volunteered to be block captain in January, Alenda Lyons, President of the Mill City Community Association in Dallas, told CBS News' Crimesider.

Lyons said her crime watch group does work with authorities and police attend meetings held by the association. She described it as a "volunteer-based service" that encourages community members to "look out for one another."

"You are the eyes of the community," Lyons said.

According to Lyons, the reported rapes took place relatively close to the community that she and Dixson helped oversee.

"It's time to draw the line against crime. Let's clean up all the trash and make Mill City look like a neighborhood that we can all be proud to call our own," Dixson wrote in an August newsletter released by the Mill City Community Association.

Lyons said that there are no prerequisites to become a block captain. The group does not perform background checks on volunteers and therefore she was unaware of Dixson's extensive criminal record. He had previously been arrested on charges of aggravated robbery, evading arrest and resisting arrest. In 1992, he was arrested on charges of aggravated sexual assault and making a terroristic threat, but those cases were dismissed.

"When you get involved in requiring background checks you have to figure out who pays for the background checks," Lyons told Crimesider.

She said she has no plans to reevaluate how neighborhood watch volunteers are recruited after the revelations have surfaced that Dixson is being investigated in the serial rape cases and that he has an extensive rap sheet.

"I don't think it's necessary to [do background checks] at this point, even after what has happened," Lyons told Crimesider.

Matt Peskin, the Exec. Director of the National Association of Town Watch, told Crimesider that "while background checks are certainly not a guarantee, they are something that all crime watch organizations should certainly consider."

"In my local community, when a citizen applies for the watch program, they request a background check which is done by the State Police. The results of the check are then submitted directly to our local police department so it's a confidential and relatively effective screening system," said Peskin, who is based in Wynnewood, Pa.

Art Femister, President and Founder of the National Association of Citizens on Patrol, agreed with Peskin that there are no requirements when it comes to being a neighborhood watch volunteer.

"Anyone can claim to be a neighborhood watch leader. They just say they are 'neighborhood watch leaders.' I can say right now I'm a community watch leader for my street. What does that mean? Nothing," Femister told Crimesider.

Femister said he wishes there were a national standard that would require background checks.

"Fingerprints alone will clear up 90% of that. You can't hide from a fingerprint," he said.

Dixson certainly isn't the first neighborhood watch volunteer to face criminal accusations. George Zimmerman, a 29-year-old neighborhood watch leader in Sanford, Fla., was charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin during an altercation last year in a gated community. He pleaded not guilty, claiming he shot the teen in self-defense. His acquittal, which was handed down July 13, prompted rallies nationwide calling for a civil rights probe, and the case has sparked debate about race and self-defense laws.

Derek Medina, a Miami, Fla. man who authorities say killed his 26-year-old wife in August and apparently posted a photo of her corpse on Facebook, told residents of his townhouse complex that he possessed a concealed weapon permit and belonged to a neighborhood watch patrol. Those claims were not confirmed.

Police are currently on the hunt for Dixson. The Dallas Morning News reports police asked to question Dixson in connection with the rape investigation last week, and he hasn't been seen since. He reportedly told a neighbor he had given a DNA sample he believed would clear his name. Instead, that DNA reportedly linked him to four of the nine victims. Authorities are still waiting for the laboratory results to come back on the remaining five attacks.

Last Tuesday, police announced that a series of seven rapes which occurred between June 22 and Sept. 1 near Dallas' Fair Park were believed to be connected. Since the announcement, two more women have come forward saying they were victims, too.

Complete coverage of the Dallas serial rape case on Crimesider