Downtown Security Ambassadors Go Above And Beyond

April 1, 2015

Comfy shoes are a must for Downtown security ambassadors - they walk more than 10 miles per day.

Comfy shoes are a must for Downtown security ambassadors – they walk more than 10 miles per day.

by Brad Poole

Next time you see a Downtown Tucson Partnership Security Ambassador walking along the street, stop and offer a handshake. There’s more to them than meets the eye.

The team of security officers has two basic roles Downtown. They help people feel safe and welcome, and they serve as extra eyes for the Tucson Police Department. Sometimes they do much more.

A few years ago, two of the Purple Shirts, as they are known because of their purple polo shirt uniforms, came across a car stalled on the railroad tracks. So they swooped in like superheroes.

“Our security guys literally pushed the vehicle off the tracks about a minute before a train came,” said Security Manager Stan McIntyre, a retired sheriff’s deputy from northwest Washington who leads the team from their Pennington Street Garage headquarters.

On several occasions, the Purple Shirts have saved lives. Occasionally, suicidal people choose Downtown parking garages to leap from in desperation, and Purple Shirts have talked several people out of jumping.

Security Ambassador Harold Harris knows most of the indigent population by name. Here he asks about a man's injured leg.

Security Ambassador Harold Harris knows most of the indigent population by name. Here he asks about a man’s injured leg.

“We were successful in stopping all of them,” McIntyre said.

Harold Harris has worked security Downtown since the Cadence apartment complex was a parking lot. He walks a beat Downtown starting shortly after 7 a.m. weekdays, when he deals largely with merchants, curious or lost visitors and the city’s homeless population.

He has seen some, er, interesting things, too. Catching people having sex is not uncommon (people often choose top of parking garages for this, also). There are fights, especially on the night shift after bars close. The biggest security concern overall Downtown is the bar crowd late at night, McIntyre said.

The night crew deals with those folks, who wind up in fights or getting otherwise unruly.

Sometimes things get a little weird.

“I think the craziest call I got was over in Presidio Plaza – a guy taking a shower in the fountain,” Harris said.

The security staff works closely with merchants, especially ones who own or work in small, one-person shops, like A Perfect Pantry on 6th Avenue. One one recent morning, the Perfect Pantry manager had a child home sick and was late opening.

She texted Harris, asking him to hang a note on the door for customers. They also escort lone employees to cars or do other favors.

Downtown Tucson Partnership Security Ambassadors Dahr Prince (left) and Harold Harris check parking garages for problems.

Downtown Tucson Partnership Security Ambassadors Dahr Prince (left) and Harold Harris check parking garages for problems.

“There are a couple merchants who are totally alone, so we go a little above and beyond for them. They’ll call us when they need a bathroom break. All the merchants have our number,” Harris said.

They also escort late-night workers to their cars, as needed. Panhandlers and are a frequent issue.

Most of the time, they are not a problem, but sometimes they get aggressive and the Purple Shirts come in to calm the situation. The Children’s Museum frequently calls about homeless people, and the Purple Shirts check on them.

“We have a really good rapport. I’ve been dealing with (the homeless population Downtown) for years,” Harris said.

Because they patrol 33 blocks from Toole Avenue to 14th Street and Granada to 4th Avenue, the job offers a lot of exercise. A key role for the security team is visibility, to serve as a deterrent, and you can’t do that sitting in an office waiting for phone calls. You have to walk.

“On a good day, I’ll get 15 miles. We average 10 or 12 miles per day,” Harris said.

McIntyre stressed that the Purple Shirts are not an extension of police. They can’t arrest people. They’re basically an extra set of eyes roving through Downtown, he said.

But sometimes they detain people, such as a recent case when a man refused to leave a restaurant. The Purple Shirts detained the unruly man until police arrived.

“It’s a strange, very rare occurrence when we have to use the cuffs,” Harris said.

If you need help from a Downtown Tucson Partnership Security Ambassador, call (520) 940-1038.

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