Back in the day—in the late 1800s, that is—respectable folks would not enter certain parts of Fort Worth, Texas. Those were its boom days when the rowdy part of the city was known as Hell’s Half Acre, because it was home to the largest number of bars, dance halls, and brothels south of Dodge City, Kansas.
Located along the Chisholm Trail, Fort Worth attracted cattlemen, gamblers, cowboys, and the ladies who entertained them. Mixing such colorful characters with free-flowing alcohol resulted in copious amounts of crime—shootings, muggings, and brawls occurred daily.
Though the past is still present in modern Fort Worth, it takes a far gentler form. The area is now known as Sundance Square, named for the Sundance Kid, who, along with his partner Butch Cassidy, frequented the area in its heyday. Most of the 28 buildings in the 38-block district date from the turn of the 20th century and the streets are still paved with red brick.
While the ambiance remains, the high crime rates are history. Sundance Square is now protected by a privately owned security force, Center City Security (CCS), which partners with police, nonprofit organizations, and corporate security to keep the city safe.
CCS is owned by Bass Companies, a local firm that owns real estate in the area. Bass launched CCS in 1981 as it was trying to develop Sundance Square. “The area had some unsavory elements,” remembers John Joyce, deputy director of security for CCS. Bass Companies “committed to get it clean and make it safe in the hopes that more businesses would move into the area,” he says. It worked.
From a control center in their offices, located in the heart of Sundance Square, CCS officers monitor more than 300 digital and analog CCTV cameras as well as hundreds of alarms. To ensure that the approximately 45 armed officers are in top physical form, the CCS offices also contain a firing range, weightlifting equipment, and other exercise equipment such as treadmills. Fitness is critical, according to Joyce. While some officers walk, ride Segways, or even ride horses on patrol, most ride bicycles.
The offices also serve as a training center. Some of the training is routine for security personnel, such as handcuff training and de-escalation techniques. However, the CCS also has a fully equipped dojo, where officers learn jujitsu.
“We have been teaching this type of martial art since the CCS was founded,” says Joyce. “It works very well because anyone can use it, it’s nonaggressive, and it is not designed to cause pain.”
The officers also undergo specific scenario training, which helps them deal with the different people who populate the retail, residential, and corporate surroundings of Sundance Square. This training is critical, says Joyce, because different types of people visit the area depending on the time of day.
“We have an area that is an office environment all day and then transitions into a family-oriented environment in the evening with adults and children going to the movies and out to dinner,” says Joyce. “Then at 10 p.m., the visitors turn into another group—younger people, going to outdoor concerts and bars.”
These changes require different responses from officers. For example, officers are trained to summon assistance for an executive who has car trouble, calm a parent who has lost a child, provide first aid to an injured tourist, or call a cab for a bar patron.
The 21 bars in the area provide ample opportunity for the officers to use their training and to foster the positive relationship they have built with the Fort Worth Police Department. In many incidents, such as those involving intoxicated customers, bar owners call both police and CCS officers. CCS also has a police radio in its dispatch office so that officers can be in contact with law enforcement if necessary.
Though the relationship was rocky at first, the partnership works smoothly now, to the benefit of all parties. “Once the police realized that we weren’t trying to take police jobs away or trying to be police, they found it was a win-win situation,” says Joyce.
To establish the relationship, CCS worked to make connections at every level. CCS and its officers also stay involved in law enforcement associations. For example, Joyce serves on the board of directors for the Forth Worth Bike Patrol Support Group, which provides training and equipment to bike officers on the police force.
CCS also supports the work of the Safe City Commission, a nonprofit organization that works with the Fort Worth Police to fight crime through various initiatives such as gang violence intervention and education. The group is currently developing a family advocacy center, which will conduct outreach on a variety of topics from cyberbullying to dating violence.
CCS strives to assist law enforcement by dealing with certain issues that police don’t have time for. “The police can be overwhelmed, especially now that cities are facing budget cuts, and they must watch how their resources are being used,” says Joyce. “We can do some things so they don’t have to. Police can stay on patrol while we deal with other things.”
Some of those other things involve aiding corporate security. CCS works in conjunction with proprietary security forces in the district. For example, CCS often works alongside XTO Energy, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil, which has a small security force that patrols the company’s 10 buildings in Fort Worth. CCS will also help corporations with internal security issues, such as potentially contentious terminations. CCS officers will stay in the background during the termination but remain available in case of violence.
The various groups, ranging from police to nonprofit foundations, support each other through numerous training initiatives. CCS recently held a street survival training course and invited local police officers to attend.
The police reciprocate. When the Fort Worth Police held a training session on crowd control in anticipation of next year’s Super Bowl, they made sure to include CCS officers. “We’re all in this together,” says Joyce. “We need to train together and prepare together.”