Public safety and a growing homeless population topped the agenda of the monthly West 7th Restaurant Bar and Retail Association meeting earlier this week. Group president Chas Taipale opened by introducing attendees to three Fort Worth police officers, a Fort Worth firefighter, and one TABC staffer.
After discussing the rise in panhandling and increased homeless presence, West Division Commander Buck Wheeler told the gathering of 15 bar owners about a possible means for controlling unwanted trespassers.
“It is challenging from a law enforcement perspective,” Wheeler said. “If we trespass someone from one location, it is hard to enforce that right across the street. On West Magnolia Avenue, they essentially created a [memorandum of understanding] between businesses. The legal document said if you trespass here, you trespass everywhere. It allowed consistent enforcement.”
Wheeler said his West Division has stepped up patrols and allocations of officers, especially on weekends.
“West Division, in general, we are in a good position personnel-wise,” Wheeler said. “We can expand our patrols. We hope you guys can see that.”
One bar owner said the increased police presence was noticeable and appreciated.
“I have noticed a difference,” the bar owner said. “It has made all the difference in the world. We are very appreciative.”
Two months ago, several West 7th bar managers and owners privately shared concerns about a perceived shortage of active-duty cops in a corridor that easily sees several thousand late-night revelers spill onto the streets at 2 a.m. on weekends. The June rape of a young woman near Texas Republic led one Weekly reader to ask our magazine to investigate sexual assaults and public safety in the bustling corridor (“Nightstalker,” Aug. 11).
Even as West 7th business owners voice appreciation for the increased police presence, posts on the Facebook group Party on 7th reveal locals and bar staffers are still apprehensive about spending extended time in the entertainment district on weekends.
“Things have gotten extremely bad in the past month,” one female bartender recently posted. “I am scared to walk to my car. There have been several instances where female bartenders who work down here have been assaulted physically while on the clock and off. People can’t walk the streets without confrontation.”
Researching the types of crimes in the West 7th area is difficult, largely due to efforts by the city attorney’s office to conceal records that could shed light on the type and frequency of criminal activity within the corridor. After initially agreeing to release police reports over the last six months and billing our magazine, a city attorney recently told me that releasing the information would compromise ongoing police investigations.
Based on data from CrimeMapping.com, 182 police reports were filed in the West 7th corridor over the past six months. With 70 crimes reported, Sundays (including midnight to 2 a.m. or later on Saturday nights) saw the most incidents, while around 45 alleged crimes occurred on Saturdays, meaning the vast majority of offenses happen on weekends. A total of 53 assaults were reported by police in the past six months, while 10 police reports were filed for drug- or alcohol-related charges. Seven offenses dealt with use of a deadly weapon. The area we searched stretches from West 7th Street to the north, down to West Lancaster Avenue with University Drive and Woolery Street respectively bordering the west and east.
A Fort Worth police spokesperson said in an email that the West Division staffs around 21 officers on Saturday nights with roughly half that number working Fridays and Sundays.
“We also run a special detail on Friday and Saturday nights,” the spokesperson said. “If fully staffed, that gives us an additional six officers on Friday nights and an additional eight on Saturday nights.”
Those figures do not include off-duty officers hired directly by business owners, the spokesperson added.
Open container laws that allow possibly underage pedestrians to consume beer and liquor on the streets are a major public safety concern for bar owners, based on the association’s recent conversations. One officer said the city’s legal team is looking at new zoning ordinances that could end the practice of allowing consumption of alcohol outside bars. After the meeting, Taipale told me drinking on the streets and sidewalks is a major factor that leads to public intoxication.
“It’s still an issue,” he said. “Having an open bottle of beer and a vodka bottle to chug are two different things. Then they are drinking in their cars and not in the bars.”
The meeting ended with a discussion about litter, something the police said has public safety implications. Citing the broken windows theory, Wheeler said visible signs of disorder encourage crime and disorder. Taipale said he plans to partner with Keep Fort Worth Beautiful, a citizen-driven initiative to promote beautification, recycling, and environmentally sustainable practices throughout town, to organize monthly cleanup efforts. The bar owner said business is picking up and he is excited to see large public events return to nearby Dickies Arena and elsewhere.
This story is part of Inside West 7th, an ongoing series of reports on the past, present, and future of the area. Have news tips or ideas for us? Email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com.