When we heard that the Fremont East Entertainment District was getting a Downtown Project-sponsored patrol called the Downtown Rangers and headed by an ex-cop, we imagined nothing short of a jackbooted paramilitary unit, armed with tasers and brass knuckles, marching up and down Fremont to popular indie rock and forcibly instigating “serendipitous interaction.”
Then I met Chris Curtis, the 20-year Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department veteran who left Metro on April 1 to head up the Rangers, and found him soft-spoken, centered and immediately likable. Not long ago, a colleague of mine thought nothing of giving Curtis—still with Metro at the time—a friendly pat on the back, only later reflecting that he’d laid a hand on an armed cop without permission. In short, Curtis’ new title with the Rangers, the “Ambassador of Good Chill,” couldn’t be more appropriate.
“Our vision statement is ‘to create the most enjoyable downtown experience worldwide,’” he says, utterly sincere. “My hope for the Rangers is that they make people feel incredibly comfortable when they come Downtown, and that it acts as a worldwide model for what the private sector can do to make an unappealing area appealing.”
Though that vision statement reads like Downtown Project buzz-wordery, I buy it from Curtis: He may be a sweetheart of a guy, but he’s unmistakably a cop. The former sergeant has worked some tough beats—he spent a good amount of his time at Metro working as a hostage negotiator, and then he worked on the Crisis Intervention Team, talking people off ledges. He’s earned two Lifesaving Awards in the course of his job: one for saving a man choking on food, and one for literally talking a man off a ledge.
And he’s been logging hours Downtown even as part of Metro: His Downtown 360 project—a joint effort between Metro, Siegel Suites and Zappos, among others—gives 60 daily minutes of police and government attention to three apartment communities, educating them on preventing domestic violence and so on. As part of 360, he recently trained Fremont’s bar employees on how to spot fake IDs—a move that won’t earn him any fans among the kids, but will keep the bars in business.
Curtis has no regrets about leaving Metro (“I’m a no-regrets type of guy”), but that’s not because he’s disenchanted. It’s more the case that he intends to continue cooling down situations and saving lives, only now in the more casual uniform of cargo pants and khaki utility vest with a Downtown Rangers patch on the back. The Rangers, who recently took to the streets for the first time (there are 16 of them so far), look more like a scooter gang than a military unit.
And in case you’re wondering how they’re armed: They’re not. The Downtown Rangers carry smartphones, gloves, hand sanitizer, maps and body cameras. They don’t wield so much as a Wiffle-ball bat.
“They’ll be trained in how to de-escalate a situation, but only if they’re confronted. Otherwise, they’ll just be on the periphery and be excellent witnesses,” Curtis says. “They won’t receive training in martial arts or in self-defense.”
What the Rangers will know is CPR and other lifesaving techniques. (Remember, Curtis earned one of his commendations by delivering the Heimlich.) They’ll be educated in how to make concise 911 calls, to give proper witness statements, to identify and document different kinds of graffiti and to help direct homeless Downtowners to necessary services.
Additionally, they’ll be trained in how to do someone a solid.
“Say you’re parked at a meter that’s about to run out. You can give a Ranger a buck to go feed it,” Curtis says. “They’re more than happy to do that for you.”
The Rangers are walking Fremont East from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. daily, and I just might take them up on the meter thing. I also might test a promise Curtis has made: If any one of the Downtown Rangers can’t recite the Rangers’ vision statement to you verbatim, then David Lawson—director of the Rangers and Curtis’ second-in-command—will buy you “whatever meal is of the hour.”
“Please make sure you get that into the article,” says Curtis.
And while it’s a bit outside of the Ambassador of Good Chill’s authority to issue commands, I’ll follow that one to the letter.