Downtown Detroit these days is alive with pop-up retailers like Moosejaw, curious visitors and the foot traffic of young professionals.
Watching over this activity is a new private security force that dresses in red and blue uniforms -- and rides bicycles.
Detroit has one of the highest crime rates in the country, and it has a lot of security guards. But very few, if any, ride bikes.
These cycling security guards are another idea from Quicken Loans’ Dan Gilbert, who has purchased nine buildings and two parking garages downtown – a total of 2 million square feet of real estate – and spent $300 million moving 60 companies into the space.
“This validates the need for increased security,” said Quicken spokeswoman Jennifer Rass.
The city overall has one of the nation’s highest crime rates, but its downtown remains relatively safe. One reason is the vigilance of security personnel hired by companies to assist the Detroit Police Department. Guards in building lobbies also have been trained to assist crime victims or anyone needing help.
Crime has not been eradicated, but the combined forces appear to be working.
“I’d say we have maybe 30 or 35 car break-ins and thefts a week,” said Lt. Darin Szilagy, who commands a special operations unit of 30 officers. “We have very, very little violence. A handful of violent crimes” a year.
Among those violent crimes this year have been the murders of two security guards employed by the Pandemonium nightclub, in separate incidents. (Pandemonium closed after the second incident.) A third justifiable homicide involved an altercation at another bar.
The reason for the relatively safe atmosphere during daylight business hours, says Szilagy, is the visible presence of uniformed guards that patrol the downtown, assisting police officers. Though the guards don’t carry firearms, they do have radios and can notify police if they see suspicious characters or help if anyone is in trouble.
“We have a very safe work environment here,” said Szilagy. “Those who run into crime with their vehicles do so because they choose to park on the street rather than in one of the secure garages.”
Members of Quicken’s bike patrol, from the New York-based Guardsmark Inc., are trained to spot potential trouble and to deter thieves, drug dealers, muggers and even aggressive panhandlers.
The Guardsmark patrol devotes special attention to routes used by Quicken workers between their parking spots and work places. On Friday, one cycling guard was seen pedaling next to two women as they walked along State Street toward a garage where Quicken workers park.
For its small size, downtown has a sizeable law enforcement presence beyond the DPD and security guards: There are three courthouses and the headquarters of such federal agencies as the FBI, U.S. Marshals and the Drug Enforcement Administration. In addition, members of the Federal Protection Service watch over the U.S. facilities.
Detroit police headquarters is at 1300 Beaubien, and the cops have squad rooms behind Hart Plaza, in the Compuware parking garage, Cobo Hall and Joe Louis Arena.
The Detroit force is shrinking because of the city’s budget problems, but that has had no discernible effect on downtown safety. The influx of a few thousand workers has helped create a sense of sense of security.
“I tend to work late at night and often leave when most folks are going to bed,” said Leland Bassett, a public relations and communications executive based in the First National Building. “What I see are people out walking on the streets and no hassles. The streets are busy all the time now.”