Fort Worth Area Businesses Seek to Form Private Sector Crime Watch

In the nearly five years that Shady Oak Barbeque & Grill has operated in north Fort Worth, the restaurant has put up signs, installed cameras and had employees monitor the parking lot to avert crime.

The business, like many others along the Interstate 35W corridor from Northeast Loop 820 to Basswood Boulevard, has experienced its share of car burglaries.

"That area is a hot spot, largely because it's located right there by the interstate," said Todd Gordon, director of operations for Shady Oak, at 6364 Sandshell Drive.

In an attempt to ease the problem, Fort Worth police will host a meeting Tuesday in the hope of forming a business crime watch -- similar to a neighborhood crime watch.

Car burglaries make up 75 percent of the crime at those businesses, officer Walt Watkins said. But more serious crimes have also occurred, including a 2003 robbery in which an employee at the UA Fossil Creek Stadium 11 movie theater was tied up and forced to open the safe. The robbers took $18,000.

Watkins hopes the meeting will attract about 25 businesses from the fast-growing area, which consists mostly of chain restaurants and hotels.

In 2004, police hosted a similar meeting that attracted about 50 people. But only one person showed up for a follow-up meeting, and the business crime watch never came together.

Since then, the Citizens on Patrol, a group of residents who keep watch on nearby residential neighborhoods, have also looked after the business district.

For his part, Watkins has passed out fliers and he employs what he calls Operation Trojan Horse: He places a mannequin in an unused police car that is moved to different parking lots every few hours to deter criminals.

"We're already doing several things," he said. "What we're trying to do is get the businesses to unite."

One option includes hiring a security guard, who would have fewer enforcement powers than a police officer but would also be less expensive.

Watkins would like to form a business watch similar to one formed by five hotels in the I-35W/Meacham Boulevard corridor. For the past year, the hotels have met once a month, passed out fliers and used an e-mail/phone tree to tip others off about suspicious customers. A police officer also patrols the area.

Watkins said crime has been reduced in that area by 61 percent since Jan. 1.

Stacey Wood, general manager of the Hilton Garden Inn at 4400 North Freeway, is satisfied with the program.

"The smash-and-grabs are so relevant in all big cities," she said. "We just try to come together and bring more security to our area."

Gordon, of Shady Oak, supports the idea of the business watch for north Fort Worth. So does Soretha Balkam, front desk supervisor for the Best Western Inn at 6700 Fossil Bluff Drive. Her hotel has experienced several break-ins.

"We just want a little protection," she said.

(c) 2005 Associated Press