FORT WORTH, Texas – As the sun sets over West 7th Street on a sweltering summertime Saturday, daytime activities are winding down.
“You have restaurants, you have shopping,” explains FWPD Lt. Fred Long.
But nighttime activities are only getting started.
On this particular Saturday night, we are out with Fort Worth’s newest police patrol unit; a group of about 18 officers on foot, bike and in cars, devoted solely to this area bordered by West 7th Street, Foch Street, University and Lancaster Avenue.
And it doesn’t take long to see why they are needed.
“There's about 60 establishments here in this 12-block radius that serve alcohol,” says Lt. Long, who oversees the unit. He adds that another five of these kind of establishments are slated to open soon.
“On a busy night on a weekend, we may have 3,000 to 5,000 people in a 12-block radius,” he says.
The scene is a massive change from years ago, when this area had few nightlife options at all.
But Lt. Long says he realized last year the department’s west division had an issue on its hands, when closing time would come and the calls for service would roll in.
“Back about a year ago, we were averaging on a Saturday night 8-10 arrests down here,” he says.
DWIs, assaults, public intoxication; he says he watched last summer as the crowd size grew and arrest numbers doubled.
“Sometimes almost the entire shift would end up down at the jail at about 2:30 in the morning, and there'd be very few left of us to answer calls for the rest of the division,” Long says.
So the new patrol unit is their answer.
As the night heats up, we see how the new unit works.
“First PI of the night,” Long tells our reporter, as they walk towards a bar. “I guess this guy right here is under arrest for public intoxication.”
The minute police hear or see something developing, they can be there within minutes, or even seconds, whether it’s to make an arrest, call an ambulance, de-escalate a situation or get people home.
“It does get pretty wild,” says Gillian Morse of Fort Worth.
People say they’ve noticed the change in this area—all the bars, all the action. They’ve also noticed the enhanced police presence.
“Makes me feel comfortable. I like it. It's one of the first things I noticed,” says James Renfro of Weatherford.
Still, the true test is closing time. We stationed ourselves at the corner of Morton and Norwood and watched as police handled the hundreds, if not thousands, who poured out of the bars and into the streets at 2 a.m.
By that time, available officers have arrived for back up, bringing the total officers to 30. That does not count the off-duty officers hired by the individual bars to do security.
In spite of all the chaos, we saw just one fight that police had to handle.
“I think it went pretty well,” Long says to us as it nears 3 a.m. “Pretty slow night, actually. I think we ended up arresting two or three.”
Long says they’ve arrested about 125 people in the past six months on just Friday and Saturday nights alone. But he says since the unit’s April inception, arrest numbers are dropping.
“It kind of comes with the territory,” Long says. “If you're going to put this many bars down here in a concentrated area with this many intoxicated people, you're going to get fights, you're going to get things like that.”
All Fort Worth Police can do is position themselves to handle the action that comes along with a burgeoning bar scene.