Last weekend, 10 off-duty police officers patrolled Deep Ellum as part of a collaborative effort among the Deep Ellum Foundation, the Dallas Police Department, and property and business owners.
“I was in Deep Ellum late on both Friday and Saturday of last week and was very encouraged by what I saw,” Josh Florence, owner of several Deep Ellum businesses, including Club Dada and Off the Record, said in an email. “I saw multiple officers walking in pairs and engaging the public in a positive way, helping them across the street, chatting them up, keeping the Uber drivers from just camping out in the street. It was great.”
The foundation is providing more than $100,000 a year to the public-safety effort in Deep Ellum, and thanks to support from more than 15 local business and five property owners in the area, that budget has more than tripled — meaning a more regular police presence will be in Deep Ellum through the summer.
“We all did this together,” says Jessica Burnham, executive director for the Deep Ellum Foundation. “We’ve been literally spending the last almost two years with our main focus on building relationships with people.”
Florence and his partners, Phil Coward, Tim Daniels and Bryan Austin, worked with the foundation to rally support from local businesses. He says after a conversation with On Premise co-owner Adam Salazar, they approached Burnham with the idea to pool support from the community.
“We felt confident the timing was right and we could get most operators on board to help keep Deep Ellum safe if [Burnham] could get the property owners on board. She assured us she could, so we went to work contacting our fellow operators,” Florence said. “At the end of the day, about 17 operators joined the initiative.”
Florence also said that the officers’ presence is all Deep Ellum needs to maintain security. The area’s crime rates have been comparable to nearby areas of downtown Dallas and Uptown, but a spike in crime last fall caused concern for businesses. Patrons were warned to walk in groups, and murals and businesses were vandalized.
“We have definitely noticed more people in the neighborhood, which is great, but with more people comes the possibility of crime if there isn't a police presence,” Florence said. “Deep Ellum isn't unsafe. In fact, it's one of the safer entertainment districts in the city. We as business owners, property owners, neighbors and police are just doing our part to help keep it that way.”
However, between September 2016 and this May, 176 thefts, robberies and broken-into cars were reported to police in Deep Ellum, according to public records from Dallas Open Data. That’s 57 more calls than the same period last year.
Also, there were twice as many reports of burglary of a building and more than twice as many assaults in the last nine months. In total, 580 incidents were reported to police on the Deep Ellum beat over the last nine months, compared to 401 reported from September 2015 to May 2016.
On Thursday night, a man named Pierre Mora shared his Deep Ellum assault on his Facebook page:
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However, with 20 shifts of off-duty police officers, private security patrolling during the week and a positive response from the community after the first weekend, things are looking good for the community as a whole.
And over time, Burnham says, the off-duty officers will become part of the community as well.
“Our district is different than a lot of other districts where we’ve made it clear that the police shouldn’t be there to police the party; we’re still Deep Ellum,” Burnham said. “We have to have very astute officers on our team that aren’t ticketing for no reason or our not causing other problems that don’t need to be happening.”
Every shift officer will introduce him- or herself to the managers and business owners and will be kept on record so the Deep Ellum Foundation can ensure open lines of communication between businesses and police. The meetings will also serve as a way to ingrain the officers into the community and establish a presence on the busiest bar nights of the week.
“They’re here for the neighborhood. They’re not just here to post up in front of one person’s door; they’re here for everybody,” Burnham says. “Eventually, they’ll become a part of the neighborhood. They’re not just an added, paid-for service. They [will] become an integral player in the neighborhood.”