After a series of gun violence and a public rebuke from rapper T-Pain about crime in the neighborhood, Deep Ellum’s business owners grow suspicious.
Police and business owners are stepping up security ahead of the summer peak season for bars, clubs and restaurants that line Dallas‘ main nightlife thoroughfare, and have drawn up a comprehensive security plan. Owners are worried about their safety and fear of violence could temper crowds.
At the same time, some bar and restaurant veterans say it’s all part of the Deep Ellum mystique. Business owners who have experienced past crime waves say Deep Ellum is no more dangerous than other Dallas entertainment districts, and the crime data backs that up.
“I guarantee you that when a group wants to go to Deep Ellum, someone in that group says, ‘Do we have to go?’ But I think that’s been happening for 20 years,” said Todd Garton, director of the operation of the Deep Ellum Cane Rosso pizzeria.
Recent violent incidents include a shooting that left two dead and three injured last weekend, and another in April that left two injured. The two happened between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. on a Sunday, when clubs were letting customers out and the streets were packed.
So when rapper T-Pain noticed a lull in ticket sales for his Deep Ellum concert, he moved it to Grand Prairie, concluding that fans were avoiding the area for safety reasons.
Neighborhood leaders have asked police for help, and police agree the area needs more attention. In September, after a shooting in the area killed a teenager and injured five others, Police Chief Eddie García vowed to “take back Deep Ellum” and said “we are not going to tolerate it”. He said he would add a police presence until police and Deep Ellum leaders can come up with a “more holistic plan.”
The Deep Ellum Foundation released a comprehensive report community safety plan earlier this month calling on police to step up security earlier in the year ahead of summer crowds, create a dedicated entertainment district police force that can provide specialist crowd and traffic control , and to work with other city departments on parking violations and homeless assistance. The plan also calls for Deep Ellum leaders to establish a Central Neighborhood Command to coordinate police, security guards, social workers and law enforcement, among other improvements. The foundation and the police have pledged to strengthen these measures in 2022.
“Like any entertainment district in the country, we must have constant vigilance in the community. This is important not only for customers, but also for employees,” said general manager Stephanie Hudiburg.
In addition to blocking traffic for pedestrian safety, Dallas Police Executive Assistant Chief Albert Martinez said the department has added at least 10 officers to patrol Deep Ellum as summer approaches. The goal, he said, is to have high visibility of officers to make sure people feel safe and deter criminal behavior.
He said the department has also increased its engagement with area businesses and organizations like the Deep Ellum Foundation, which he said recently increased the number of surveillance cameras in place.
“I think it’s important for people to know how invested and committed everyone is in promoting safety at Deep Ellum and making sure it’s safe,” Martinez said.
Police will reassess the plan in the fall. “Everything is subject to change as we are constantly evaluating,” Martinez said. “If things don’t go the way we want, yes, we could increase the number of agents. … A plan is a plan, but we make decisions or assess whether the plan is working. And that’s the goal: are we effective with the plan? »
Uncle Uber’s Sammich shop, which has been on Commerce Street in Deep Ellum for 12 years, has tightened security after the recent murders. They used to put their ‘biggest’ employee on the front door on weekend nights when they had a DJ, operations manager Dunagin Gaines said, but now they’ve hired a security for high traffic nights.
Gaines said he and other Deep Ellum restaurant operators have talked about moving their businesses elsewhere, but he believes this is a passing phase in the life cycle of entertainment districts. He thinks more police foot patrols will help.
“I’ve been around long enough to see this happen in all areas of entertainment. Every neighborhood goes in and out of it and it gets people out for a while,” Gaines said.
Gun violence in a crowded entertainment district surely heightens the public’s sense of danger. But according to the Dallas Police Department’s Open Data Portal, Deep Ellum is no more criminal or violent than other nightlife neighborhoods in Dallas.
So far this year, the 75226 ZIP code, which includes all of Deep Ellum but also extends east to Fair Park and a few blocks south of Interstate 30, has seen 574 crimes in total, 46 of which were violent crimes, including aggravated assault and homicide.
By comparison, ZIP code 75206, which includes Lower Greenville, with 1,037 total crimes, including 48 violent ones. 75201, which includes the southern half of Uptown and also stretches through the Downtown and Main Street neighborhoods, recorded 54 violent crimes, and 75204, which includes the northern half of Uptown and Old East Dallas, recorded 117 violent crimes.
Vehicle theft is by far the most common crime recorded in Deep Ellum. The region has recorded 25 serious assaults this year, including gunshots and stabbings.
For many people, Deep Ellum just doesn’t feel safe these days.
“On a personal level, as someone who has haunted Deep Ellum since the 80s and who has seen crime rise and fall, I am deeply disturbed,” said Doug Davis, owner of Murray Street Coffee Shop with his wife, Elizabeth , since 2005. .
The crime did not affect his daytime coffee business, which primarily serves neighborhood residents, but he said this crime wave was different.
“I feel like there’s a lot more gun violence going on than there has been in the past,” he said. “Too many people seem to have guns and too many people seem ready to use them.”
Deep Ellum Blues
Deep Ellum has a long reputation for entertainment with a whiff of danger. The neighborhood was home to musical legends such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie Johnson and Lead Belly. And that spawned the 1920s blues anthem, “Deep Ellum Blues,” which warns revelers to hide their money and beware of any women they meet at Deep Ellum. Versions of the song were later recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis and the Grateful Dead.
“Deep Ellum has a folklore going back to the Depression era, it’s like a dangerous part of town. It’s not new. It’s part of who it is,” said Jeffrey Liles, artistic director of the Kessler Theater in Oak Cliff Liles booked shows at Deep Ellum clubs from 1985 to 1993.
Many current business owners remember a more recent crime wave that led the city council in 2007 to require every bar to obtain a new municipal license to continue operating.
Liles calls the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009 “the low point” for Deep Ellum, when “all the clubs closed”. Part of the reason Deep Ellum has returned, he argues, is because of Uber and other ride-hailing services — which he attributes to the dramatic reduction in DUI offenses.
Soon after, Deep Ellum experienced a renaissance, with a wave of new restaurants and bars.
The new Deep Ellum
“Deep Ellum is one of those neighborhoods in Dallas that has gone through so many different waves over the past 20 years: people thought it was unsafe, then safe, then unsafe, then safe. more highs and lows than any other neighborhood in Dallas,” Garton said with Cane Rosso, one of the first participants in the new Deep Ellum.
Cane Rosso business leaders say the restaurant has not seen a drop in crime-related sales. And crime fears haven’t deterred developers from continuing to invest in the neighborhood. A new office building on Commerce called The Stack has seen strong rental, and other office towers are in various stages of completion, although the area was hit when Uber halted plans for a hub of 3,000 employees at Deep Ellum.
“Thousands upon thousands of people visit, work and safely reside in Deep Ellum – one of our city’s most vibrant and unique neighborhoods – every day and night,” said Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson. , in a press release. But success requires addressing public safety concerns, he said, which the police are doing.
When T-Pain tweeted his concerns about his performance in Deep Ellum, Johnson responded in defense of Dallas. Johnson, a fan of the rapper, assured him that Dallas was safe.
Some people wonder if T-Pain’s beef with Dallas was all about safety.
Frank Campagna’s art gallery is a block from The Factory, the place T-Pain left to stage his show in Grand Prairie. Campagna opened the Kettle Art Gallery in 2005, and he could easily be called Deep Ellum’s winning artist, having painted hundreds of murals on buildings since 1989.
“I think the neighborhood has always had a bad reputation,” Campagna said, but it’s not as dangerous as a lot of people seem to think. “It’s pretty hilarious. Come on, it deserved a bad reputation for 100 years.
Campagna is skeptical of T-Pain’s motives for pulling his show from Deep Ellum, calling it “a publicity move” designed to land a bigger venue where he could sell more tickets. The Factory adapts 4,300. Texas Trust CU Theater holds 6,350.
“If anything, he upgraded for more space,” Campagna said.
Editors Kelli Smith, Michael Granberry, Sarah Blaskovich, Dan Singer and Tommy Cummings contributed to this report.