THE MAGAZINE

How Dallas Does Security

By Teresa Anderson

 Dallas Fusion Center. The Dallas Police Department’s Fusion Center was founded in 2007 and operated during business hours with three officers until last year when it received $3 million in federal grants under the Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Area Security Initiative. Now, with 35 officers assigned to the center, it operates around the clock analyzing news, local camera feeds, and national security information.

 
Officers monitor more than 25 databases from computer screens located around the center. The video from the city’s camera system feeds into the center, and officers there can control the pan-tilt-zoom features of the cameras if necessary. Also, all 911 calls are fed into the center and recorded. Television screens carry CNN and other 24-hour news stations.
 
One wall in the fusion center is covered by a video screen. Police can project video feeds, screen captures from databases, and other information onto the space. The room is also equipped with a smart board, which allows police at any workstation in the center to project images onto the board.
 
The officers follow open source social media, such as Twitter, to gather additional intelligence. For example, during the recent NBA All-Star Game in February, by following Twitter feeds, fusion center officers learned that LeBron James was headed to the Galleria, a local high-end mall, and that Twitter activity was encouraging local citizens to converge there. However, because officers were monitoring the network, they were aware of the situation and were able to reallocate resources. As a result, before the flash mob arrived, 18 police cars were on hand to ensure that as fans assembled, they remained well-behaved.
 
The fusion center works with federal partners, including the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration. However, the emphasis is on crime prevention, and the focus is on local issues. “We are certainly interested in national security,” says Lieutenant Todd Thomasson, who founded and oversees the fusion center. “But we focus on crime. There were 166 murders in Dallas in 2009.... Not one of those people was killed by terrorists.”
 
The center’s successes are numerous and have been dependent on getting information to police officers in the field. For example, in one recent case, a young girl was shot and killed. Police obtained the suspect’s license plate number from witnesses and provided it to the fusion center. This information led them to discover that the suspect was a Mexican national. Fusion center employees then sent a photo of the man to all local bus services to alert them to be on the lookout for him in case he attempted to flee the area.
 
One bus company confirmed that the man had booked passage to Laredo, Texas. Police were able to coordinate with other police jurisdictions and when the bus stopped for gas in Austin, Texas, officers arrested the suspect without incident. “We are now able to do in 10 minutes what used to take two weeks,” says Thomasson.
 
These capabilities are part of the reason why the murder rate in Dallas is at a 50-year low.
 
Private sector
 
Private organizations in the downtown Dallas area work in partnership with law enforcement to protect the interests of businesses and citizens. Downtown Dallas, Inc., a nonprofit group, represents businesses in the central business district of Dallas—an area that measures a little more than a square mile in the center of the city. In addition to purchasing, installing, and maintaining 87 CCTV cameras as discussed earlier, the group also operates the Downtown Safety Patrol (DSP) and the Downtown Emergency Response Team (DERT).
 
DSP. Downtown Dallas launched the DSP in 2004 as a way to create a more visible security presence in the area. As part of the program, approximately 50 officers patrol the central business district on foot and on bicycle. The officers undergo a three-week training course with the Dallas Police Department, city transit authorities, representatives from the convention and visitors bureau, crisis intervention experts, and federal officials.
 
The DSP officers are trained to give first aid and CPR and to deter panhandling and other nuisance crimes. They also work with the homeless to get them in touch with social services and assist tourists when they need directions. They call police in cases where they discover serious infractions.
 
DERT. Established in 2001, DERT is a public-private partnership that facilitates information sharing between the police and downtown businesses. Through DERT, Downtown Dallas maintains various resources including an emergency response manual, a Web site, an AM radio station, a telephone hotline, an emergency messaging service, and an emergency contact database.
 
DERT also provides critical personnel—property managers, security directors, and engineers—with credentials that they can show police in case of an emergency in order to gain access to their facilities. The credentials include a photo, job title, and the name of the property.
 
The DERT system played a key role in keeping businesses in the know in September 2009 when federal agents were working undercover in the area to catch a would-be terrorist. The agents provided the suspect with supposed bomb-making materials that were actually inert. The suspect planted the fake bomb in Fountain Place, a downtown Dallas skyscraper, and the episode resulted in a successful arrest. But when the arrest made the news, it could have been a problem because business owners did not know that federal law enforcement had been on the trail of the would-be bomber from the start.
 
“We used the DERT system not only to notify stakeholders in the business community that this was an isolated attempt, but we also built on our existing relationships to keep information flowing,” says Golbeck. “The day after the arrest, the FBI met with Fountain Place tenants, property managers, and floor wardens from all the businesses in that 60-story building to give them information.”
 
The FBI was forthcoming, according to Golbeck, telling nervous property owners that they had been following the suspect for months, that they never had the capability to set off a bomb, that all the ingredients were inert, and that federal agents knew when and where the suspect was planning to plant the would-be explosive. “We thought we would have panic in downtown Dallas the next day, but we didn’t,” says Golbeck. “People knew who to contact. They had information, and they felt secure.”
 

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