During a seven-year law enforcement career as a Dallas County deputy constable and Dallas City marshal, Tyler Atkins says he protected the public from fake security guards.
"I used to take people to jail who used to run security companies without a license," he says.
But for the past several months, it appears that Atkins, the 32-year-old son of Dallas City Council member Tennell Atkins, was doing just that. His company, Dallas Shield Inc., has been providing security guards for University General Hospital in Oak Cliff for the past several months, despite lacking the proper license from the Texas Department of Public Safety's Private Security Bureau. The company has applied for a license, but its application is listed as "incomplete" by DPS. According to the department, companies with incomplete licenses cannot legally operate.
Under state law, operating a security company without a license is a class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Atkins worked for three years as a deputy for embattled (and subsequently convicted) Dallas County Constable Derick Evans, leaving in September 2010. He was hired by the Dallas City Marshal's Office six months later, a post from which he resigned this month.
He had thought he had finished the licensing process for Dallas Shield.
"I thought everything was legit," he says.
He blames the oversight on a recent cancer diagnosis.
"I've been kind of distracted with that," he says. "Distracted with dealing with the cancer and everything."
Although Dallas Shield is headquartered at Tennell Atkins' home address, the councilman distanced himself from the company. Atkins says he helped guide Tyler through the incorporation process and has helped pay bills when revenues haven't quite met expenses but says he has no financial stake in the firm. If he did, ethics rules would require him to include it on his financial disclosure form, which lists ATCC Ventures Inc. and Rebird Development Corp. as the only two companies he owns.
Tyler Atkins also distances his father from the company. He used his father's Meadow Stone Lane address because that's the house he grew up in and he didn't want the company's mail being sent to his apartment. And while he initially described his father as Dallas Shield's bookkeeper, he walked back his father's role in two subsequent conversations to that of an informal adviser.
I caught up with two Dallas Shield security guards on Tuesday afternoon as they walked through the University General parking lot. They wore navy blue polos emblazoned with a Dallas Shield logo on the breast and "SECURITY" in bold type on the back. Neither was armed. The one I spoke with confirmed that the company is owned by Tyler Atkins and that they'd been patrolling the hospital for several months and agreed to take my number.
My phone rang as I got into my car, which I'd parked at the Hampton-Illinois Branch Library across the street from the hospital. It was Tennell Atkins, who explained breezily that Dallas Shield is his son's company. As we finished talking, a silver Ford Mustang pulled into the spot beside me. Out stepped Tyler Atkins, powerfully built in a tight-fitting white polo and Clark Kent glasses with handcuffs and a marshal's badge hung from his belt loop. If nothing else, Dallas Shield's response time is impressive.
We shook hands, and he explained that the guards, despite what their Dallas Shield shirts might indicate, were operating under the license of Still Force Security, a properly credentialed security company based in Forney. Atkins said he'd recently purchased Still Force and was in the process of transferring operations to Dallas Shield.
The explanation seemed plausible, but he called a few minutes later to clarify. He hasn't technically bought Still Force Security, he said, and didn't realize until I'd mentioned it that Dallas Shield hadn't finished the licensing process. Both facts would make a transfer of operations difficult and wouldn't really explain the Dallas Shield polos, among other things. He insisted, though, that they were operating under the Still Force Security license.
"Right now we are -- I am -- working under [Still Force Security owner] Bill Still," Atkins said. "We have to get together to get everything [regarding the sale] done."
This despite the fact that Atkins' own private security license, obtained in 2010 when he worked for a company called Off-Duty Services, has expired. Atkins says he's in the process of obtaining an active license.
University General spokeswoman Erica Cleveland declined to answer questions about the hospital's security contract, including what company it's with and how the firm was selected. (Atkins says he won the deal after developing a strong rapport with guards working for the hospital's previous security contractor. "I'd come by [on] bathroom breaks. They wasn't really happy with their security detail," so Atkins took over.) Cleveland said the licensing questions have "already actually been taken care of,"
"We talked to them yesterday about that, They came and gave us their license number," Cleveland said before abruptly hanging up.
We've had no luck reaching Still Force Security. Its listed number just rings and rings.
Regardless of Dallas Shield's license status, Atkins' ownership of a private security company appears to put him in violation of Dallas City Marshal's office policies. The office, like many law enforcement agencies, requires officers to obtain approval from supervisors in order to work off-duty jobs.
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Chief Deputy Marshal Paul Hansen said his department routinely gives approval to deputies to do things like conduct traffic at schools and churches, but asked about operating a security company, said "we probably wouldn't approve anything like that."
Atkins is no longer an employee but was employed by the marshal's office for several months after he formed Dallas Shield and began sending guards to University General. Hansen says Atkins never cleared the work with the department. "This is news to me," Hansen says.
On Tuesday afternoon, after Councilman Atkins had called to say he didn't have a stake in Dallas Shield and his son had followed up to tweak the story he'd told in the parking lot, I got a third call from the Atkins clan. It was Tyler again, this time joined on the line by his dad, who sounded much less breezy than he had at first. Tyler was contrite. Breaking the law is "the one thing we don't want to do. With my dad being who he is ... we do not want to do anything illegal."
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.