DPD Deputy Chief Thomas Castro speaks to a reporter at Monica's in The Cedars. Police "can't afford to lose control" of the situation in Deep Ellum, he says. Shawn Shinneman

Deep Ellum

After the Latest Crowded Weekend in Deep Ellum, Cops Reconsider Closing a Main Strip

The crowds reached new heights on Saturday, calling for a helicopter to the area. Police say they’ve already maxed out available staffing, so it’s time to re-strategize.

Saturday night in Deep Ellum was the busiest of the summer, according to a public safety report compiled by the Deep Ellum Foundation. That reported included an anecdote from a police officer that estimated 300 people crowded the parking lot of the 7-Eleven at Elm and Good Latimer, the most ever in that area. Although the police department couldn’t confirm that total, the crowd was sizable enough that a helicopter had to be used to disperse the group come closing time.

There were reportedly “alcohol bottles in the street and drug sales on Main Street,” but only two arrests.

As police work through the most challenging month of the year for enforcement in the area—July 15 through August 15, before the college crowd heads back—they’ve reopened conversations about deploying more drastic strategies to ensure public safety. That could include completely closing down either Main or Elm street to traffic on weekend evenings.

Authorities are reacting not only to excessive crowds but to what they’ve called crimes of opportunity, robberies and assaults that occur in entertainment districts that grow as massive as Deep Ellum has become. Most recently, there were reports of a couple of robbers offering what turned out to be synthetic marijuana to Deep Ellum patrons and then robbing them when they passed out. These incidents impact a tiny sliver of the thousands who find their way to Deep Ellum on a given weekend, but they’ve caused growing anxiety among business owners, police, and the crowds themselves.

The evolving response will involve using the city’s controversial juvenile curfew law and stopping individuals that police see violating traffic laws on scooters, Deputy Chief Thomas Castro said Tuesday night. Castro and others were at Monica’s Mex-Tex Cantina in The Cedars on Tuesday for the monthly question and answer between police and community members of downtown and Deep Ellum. The gatherings are hosted by Councilman Adam Medrano, whose district encompasses the neighborhoods.

During the discussion, Castro said it was time for police to take action. “We can’t afford to lose control of this and have something major happen,” he said. He stressed that police had maxed out the number of on-duty officers it could devote to the area given the department’s staffing shortages. Hence, the strategic changes. At the previous community meeting police said they’d instituted paddy wagons.

It’s unclear what caused Saturday’s spike. The Foundation’s public safety manager, Phillip Honoré, noted in his report that a officer suspects the crowd came from Jim’s Car Wash, a South Dallas hangout about 1.5 miles away, in a neighborhood that has long been a hotspot for criminal activity. After a June shooting at Jim’s killed a 56-year-old woman, the city’s Board of Adjustment gave it until July 19—last Friday—to close up shop. But police “cannot say with certainty that the overflow of patrons came from the car wash,” according to a DPD spokesperson. Castro reiterated that point on Tuesday night.

Even the Foundation beat back questions about that line of its safety memo, which goes out to the business owners who pay into the public safety pool that hires off duty cops for the weekends. Deep Ellum feels like something of a rolling boil on the weekends this summer, which means incidents like Saturday are going to get analyzed and talked about. To Honoré, the reports are something of a heads up for stakeholders.  They’re not necessarily confirmed, just anecdotal information sent in after the nights wrap up.

Here’s how it read: An officer “suspects that because the Dallas Car Was (sic) has been closed people have decided to come to Deep Ellum to hang out. This initiated a heavy presence of DPD Officers … There were reports of alcohol bottles in the street and drug sales occurring on Main Street.”

 “During any given time we might have someone down here selling marijuana or K2, it happens all over the city,” Honoré said in an interview. “Just because the car wash closed doesn’t mean that that activity happened because the car wash closed. That would not be a correct assessment of that particular night. If you came out here two months ago, the car wash was open, and that was our busiest weekend yet. It’s not uncommon that our officers will say it’s the biggest weekend yet. We’ve had big crowds this summer.”

Regardless of where the crowds are coming from, police will have to find new ways to deal with increased groups of people. Castro says the hope is that Saturday was an anomaly. There’s potential it was not. Police like to reiterate that Deep Ellum isn’t considered a crime hotspot in the city, and note that the thousands of people who visit the neighborhood on a given weekend night will include some folks who aren’t just out for a good time. And police, despite a hefty presence from the Foundation’s crew of neighborhood officers, will remain vastly outnumbered. Ofc. Mark Rickerman said Tuesday that, at least for a time, he was one of two on-duty cops Saturday night, not counting security and the Foundation’s off-duty presence of about 20 officers. The mounted unit was in Deep Ellum, as well. Police made just two arrests.

Rickerman was asked, point blank, whether he’d feel safe with his family in Deep Ellum right now.

“In the current situation?” he said. “No.”

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