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How to Keep Klyde Warren Park Safe

Safety is one of the top three priorities for Klyde Warren Park’s president. And one mantra—firm, but fair—has served him well in the past.
photography by Elizabeth Lavin

In the spring of 1998, just two months after Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta opened Phase II, there were complaints that the park’s safety patrol was being too firm, too hard. So an investigative reporting team set out to prove it. The team set up a camera and sent an undercover reporter dressed in shabby clothing to the park. The reporter found a bench, sat down, and then he lay down. Within 45 seconds of his laying down, a safety patrolman appeared. “I’m sorry, sir, you can’t lie on the bench,” he told the reporter with a hidden mic. “If you lie on the bench, others can’t use it. Would you mind sitting up, please?” The reporter complied and the patrolman rode off.

A few hours later, the team sent in a man in a suit. He, too, lay down on a bench. In about 45 seconds, a patrolman rode up. “I’m sorry, sir,” he started. And then he said the same thing he’d told the homeless-looking man earlier.

The reporting team later admitted they’d wasted the entire day. “They came back and said, ‘Look, we heard that it is too strict, and it was not fair and all this. From our perspective, it is being handled absolutely perfectly.’ They did a write-up and said that we got it right,” says Mark Banta, president of Klyde Warren Park.

Banta’s approach to safety control at Centennial Park, where he served as general manager for nearly 16 years, was simple. In every situation, he and his team were firm, but fair. And that’s exactly what Dallas can expect at Klyde Warren Park.

The 53-year-old president, who’s only been here since March, sits in the conference room of his office building overlooking the progress of the park. Between phone calls to developers and conversations about programming, he takes time to talk safety. “The mantra is clean, safe, and active, and in that order,” he says. “Setting an expectation of what the park is and what it’s for is the first step in public safety. I’m a firm believer that you can’t police yourself out of a problem.”

Park officials are currently working on a set of rules and regulations that they expect the public to adhere to. These guidelines will be posted throughout the park, Banta says: “The rules and regulations are basically following one of the golden rules, which is: no one person’s behavior can unduly interfere with someone’s reasonable use of the space.”

Anyone—regardless of dress, income, age, or ethnicity—who breaks one of the rules will be asked to comply. “Our expectation is that we’re going to build and operate a world-class park, and the people that come here as our guest will pay attention and do the right thing,” Banta says. However, he does understand that some will put the rules to the test. That’s why the staff at the park is working to build strong relationships with the Dallas Police Department and other stakeholders in the community, including Downtown Dallas Inc.

Reducing crime
Eight years ago, DDI realized it had to implement a safety patrol as downtown was making a resurgence and more people were making it their home. The resulting Downtown Safety Patrol is a squad of 45 men and women who patrol downtown from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays and until midnight on weekends. The certified and licensed patrolmen carry handcuffs and mace and supplement the DPD. With the help of the safety patrol, crime downtown has been reduced by 45 percent in the last five years.

But the patrol has given residents more than just improved stats. It has provided a safe, controlled environment with friendly faces. Take, for example, Tony Creswell, a bald patrolman who is known to always have a Ziplock bag full of dog biscuits, much to the delight of downtown dogs.

The DDI team is confident in its processes and willing to share its knowledge with any newcomers. “I think success is a team sport,” says John Crawford, DDI president. “We’re all working together to achieve the same objectives, and we know that’s going to happen with Klyde Warren Park.”

The DDI team rounded up several of the stakeholders in the area and met with Banta. One thing that came from the conversation was the use of 13 of the same security cameras DDI employs downtown. These cameras will be manned 24/7 by the DPD.

Banta will marshall about 30 people, who will be part of safety, administration, and maintenance. A portion of the team will be at the park 24 hours a day. They will all be trained to watch human behavior. If a situation warrants, they’ll call in the DPD.

Although safety is one of Banta’s top three priorities, he believes if the park is clean and active, it will be safe: “The litmus test is when mamas will push their babies in strollers. Then you’ve got it right.”