In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth leaders, Mayor Mattie Parker talks about policing in the West 7th entertainment district.
The Fort Worth Police Department recently increased the number of officers there on Friday and Saturday nights from 40-50 to 50-80 officers with the additional officers being off-duty officers hired by the bars and restaurants on West 7th for security as well as on-duty gang and direct security officers. The latter will be there depending on availability and whether they are needed elsewhere in the city, Commander Mark Barthen said.
This year, there have been 17 gun-related offenses in the West 7th entertainment district with 16 of those occurring in the past six to seven months, after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. Those offenses include everything from criminal mischief where property was shot at and damaged, to deadly conduct and aggravated assault.
As of August, there had also been 83 fights reported and 25 DWI arrests made, Barthen said.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio attached to this article.
Jessica Priest: I heard that you wanted to talk with me today about the West 7th entertainment district and how policing is going to be done in that area. So first, let’s back up and tell me what it is like for police there now. What are they doing?
Mattie Parker: Well, I think the No. 1 priority I wanted to get across to listeners was the West 7th area is a vibrant entertainment district. We have to have a thriving entertainment area for young people to want to go and enjoy. My husband and I are included in that. Lola’s is one of our favorite spots … and of course, Magnolia Motor Lounge. And it’s been that way for years.
We have seen an uptick in more serious criminal activity in the last few months. And we take that very seriously, but not just the city or police officers, also the patrons that go down in that area ‒ we’ve had lots of questions from them ‒ and the bar owners and business owners that have been in that area for over a decade, who care deeply about their community. All those things packaged together have really impacted the swift response we’ve seen from our police department specific to the West 7th area and how it needs to be policed differently really, because Jessica, there’s a volume of people. There might be certain weekends where you have 10,000 patrons pouring out of the bars at closing time. And so how do you keep people safe, but also an enjoyable experience has to be coupled together, and our policing methods have to be at the forefront of that.
Priest: OK, so what’s changing exactly?
Parker: A few different things. First of all, we’ve got to take more preventative measures of how we’re implementing different changes. A few of those we’re not talking about yet because we’re really working collaboratively with bar owners. As you can imagine, they use off-duty police officers. We have on-duty officers, sometimes as many as 50 to 80 officers in the area, depending on the weekend. We’re trying to use as many different options as possible to keep people safe. You may not really feel the difference when you’re down there necessarily. But we know from a safety perspective, we’re doing the right thing. And congestion also is a big issue. You have a lot of people driving in and out of the area, a lot of people, pedestrian traffic I’m concerned about. You have people parking at Farrington Field or on the street or in the parking garages. So that’s probably one of my No. 1 priorities, how to cut down on congestion to keep pedestrian safety at the forefront, but also allow people to come in and out of the area safely.
Priest: So do you mean that there are 50 to 80 officers assigned to the West 7th area on any given weekend?
Parker: That’s between on any given weekend assigned officers, part-time officers, off- duty, etc., all there at the same time. And many of them belong to different units or maybe they’re off-duty to certain bar.
Priest: OK. And you can’t say what’s changing or will there be more officers there?
Parker: At a high level for PD, I’ll give you those. We have a real-time crime center that uses a very diligent monitoring process in the West 7th area for all criminal activity that may be happening. They have a direct response opportunity from officers in the area to keep crime low and also to kind of penetrate the primary instigators because it’s important to note here if let’s say you have 5,000-10,000 people down there, we’re talking about one or two bad actors, right? Other than some kids having fun, for the most part, everybody is doing the right thing.
You’ve got a few people that we’ve got to watch closely, and that’s what police officers are focused on. It’s not about cracking down on people having fun down there. It’s about making sure criminal activity is prevented.
The second thing is, we do have the gang unit in the area working on weekends as needed. It’s not necessarily that it’s for gang activity, but they’re just keeping their ear to the ground, and they have a different training background to be able to combat or spot those things and working with local bar owners if they think there’s any kind of problem or intel is telling them about potential gang activity.
We also have our direct response team, which will work in the West 7th area at bar closing time. And the No. 1 thing is happening there, Jessica, is they want to clear patrons out as quickly as possible. Because if you look at some of these violent assaults and that have happened, they’ve happened around closing time, oftentimes in the streets as people are mingling about going back and forth. From a policing standpoint, those are the main things.
We’re also working with our bar owners in the area. They have a group that has been meeting for years. I was a part of those when I was on staff. And I should have mentioned this at the beginning, but Councilwoman Elizabeth Beck has done an awesome job working on this issue. She’s been at many of those meetings directly talking to bar owners and patrons and business owners, but they’re developing additional strategies talking together to curb those issues, preventing anything major from happening in the first place, and sharing real time information, what they’re experiencing even inside their bars so that we can keep any spillover from happening on the weekends. And then we have more officers assigned to West 7th. They started doing that both on patrol and bike officers, which seems to be helping, but you’re going to see continued presence in the coming weekends.
Priest: OK. Did that start in October?
Parker: Some of it started previous weekends, maybe mid September, but there will be a real dedicated effort.
Priest: Is this for a football game or or some sporting event or something at Dickie’s Arena?
Parker: It’s all the above. Honestly, it’s just dedicating resources and making sure they’re ready to push back about any kind of potential violent activity that may have been happening before. And of course you mentioned different events could be happening. Casa Manana, Will Rogers, Dickie’s Arena, downtown, TCU football, all those things compiled together equals a pretty rowdy Friday or Saturday night for us to deal with.
Priest: And so the crime that the police department is concerned about, is it just the shootings that I mentioned, the fighting that might break out? Or are there other types of crime that they’re concerned about in that area?
Parker: Anything that equates to assault, violent assaults, any gun violence has to be taken very seriously. We have zero tolerance for that. In this area of town, where you have that many people coming out, the opportunity to seriously injure someone or kill someone is present. And furthermore, as I mentioned before, the city of Fort Worth has to have vibrant entertainment areas across the entire city. This is one of them. And so anytime you have people, bad actors coming in to cause trouble, even if their excuse is too much to drink, we can’t allow that to happen. And so we’re taking it very seriously because of the volume of people. And you obviously have seen some of those assaults come up in the West 7th area in the past few months, really starting in early August.
Priest: And you mentioned congestion. I know I talked with your office when we were setting this up about if this was about the proposed no-cruising ordinance. Where does that ordinance stand?
Parker: It’s totally unrelated. And I don’t think you’ll see the no-cruising ordinance back up honestly. We’re able to handle the need to. Cars mixed with people are always dangerous. And we have both of those things happening right now in a very small area. There are 30-plus bars. So the first thing we need people to do is don’t drive your vehicle down there. You probably shouldn’t anyway. You should be using Uber, Lyft, or taxi service to get into the area. Anybody that has a drop to drink should not be driving home. Driving-while-intoxicated issues have continued to be a problem that our officers take very seriously, that’s first and foremost.
We want a pedestrian-friendly environment, and we’re talking with business owners and borrowers about how to make it more pedestrian friendly in the entertainment district, especially on Fridays and Saturdays. And then congestion, again, is just because of what is surrounding there. You’ve got University and West 7th along that corridor. There’s a lot happening in that area, especially with events spilling out. So keeping any through traffic from happening if they weren’t in that area to begin with. And then I mentioned Farrington Field, which has been a very useful tool for parking for us for the past several years. It’s wonderful, but you’re still having to cross Lancaster, anybody on foot. So we want to keep that corridor as safe as possible as well.
Priest: So you don’t think the proposed no-cruising ordinance will come up again? I thought that that was a solution to or a possible solution to congestion. You’re saying that that possible solution is off the table now and you are pursuing others that you mentioned?
Parker: I just don’t think it’s relevant to this issue. I don’t think it’s going to solve anything that’s happening. A no-cruising ordinance is not going to prevent someone from shooting someone else, so in this situation, we’re kind of pivoting to what really needs to happen, which is a focus on cutting down congestion, cutting down any violent criminal activity or criminal activity in general working with bar owners and patrons alike to kind of prevent this from getting out of hand, which is very important. And if you talk to other peer cities across the country that have vibrant entertainment areas, these are things I have to take seriously everywhere from Nashville to Austin. They have different methods that they really utilize to work well and honestly as someone that would go down there and visit and have a nice time, you didn’t necessarily feel like they were cracking down, you just feel like it’s a safe environment. For that number of people, it’s completely reasonable to have that presence.
The no-cruising ordinance, which has existed in the Northside since 1992, would have imposed a fine up to $500 on anyone who is cruising in the area, which is defined as passing the same traffic control point three times within any two-hour period. It was pulled from the Aug. 17 City Council meeting agenda after some raised concerns the ordinance could lead to racial profiling. Proponents said at the time that the congestion was preventing emergency responders from getting in. Since then, the Fort Worth Report has requested data on the cruising ordinance’s enforcement elsewhere in the city, MedStar’s response to the West 7th area and transit options.
There were no no-cruising tickets on file at the city of Fort Worth Municipal Court.
Between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays in July, it took an ambulance on average, 6 minutes and 41 seconds to respond to a life-threatening emergency in the West 7th entertainment district. This was a faster average response time than the average response time to all types of emergency calls in the rest of the city during the month of July. MedStar spokesman Matt Zavadsky said this may be because of a partnership between the police department and MedStar, where officers and medics bike into the area side by side. That program started in 2019.
Trinity Metro, meanwhile, offers three transportation options to the West 7th entertainment district. The Dash, a battery-electric bus line, operates daily to the Cultural District, Dickies Arena and the West 7th area. Bus route 2 provides daily service along Camp Bowie, West 7th and the Fort Worth Central Station. Both routes are every 15 minutes during peak hours. Additionally, the Southside ZIPZONE boundaries include the West 7th corridor, including Crockett Row and Montgomery Plaza and the Medical District. ZIPZONE is an on-demand rideshare option, Trinity Metro Spokeswoman Laura Hanna said.
To see the latest stats on crime in the city broken down by council district, click here.
Priest: Is there anything else that you want to add or think people should know about this issue or anything else that you’re doing as mayor?
Parker: I just think it’s important that people know we’re responding. This has probably been the top topic that people have called me or texted me about, that we’ve had emails about. Again, Elizabeth Beck has done an excellent job, and she’s leading with Council. And together, we want to make sure that citizens understand we can do this together alongside police officers, and the business owners, they’re in that area to make sure what’s happened remains a safe place to go have fun.
Jessica Priest is an investigative journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.