Security guard Demetrus Dugar had been patrolling Pioneer Square’s Broderick Building for more than a decade when the pandemic arrived. 

A familiar face in the seven-story office building, Dugar made a point of getting to know all the tenants. He shared conversations and photos of his four children with them. He gave them his phone number and told them to call if they felt uneasy leaving the building at night. He’d walk them to their cars or one of the crowded bus stops that populate the downtown core.

Then, in March 2020, Dugar found himself guarding a ghost town. The office workers fled Pioneer Square. Dugar was left on his own to protect a mostly empty building.

“It was really depressing,” said Dugar, 37.

On the job at the Broderick for 15 years now, Dugar wears plenty of hats. He’s a doorman and greeter, delivery man, guardian angel and all-purpose problem-solver. While some people might assume security guards are “action junkies” who love enforcing the rules, his favorite part of the job is building relationships with the tenants.

“You feel joy knowing that when they see you, they feel safe being in the building, they feel safe walking outside of the building, and that’s the kind of service that I like providing,” Dugar said.

To provide that safe environment, though, he has to keep unauthorized people out of the building and off the property. He walks through the seven floors every hour to ensure no one has gotten inside. Then he checks outside the building. If he finds people sleeping in the doorways or using drugs on the corner stairs, he asks them to leave.

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“Truth is, I hate confrontation — I hate it with every fiber of my being,” he said. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel bad sometimes.”

When the COVID-19 shutdown hit Seattle, his favorite part of the job disappeared. The part he disliked the most took over full time. He was the sole person in the building most days, and, for the better part of a year, the only people Dugar talked to were the homeless folks he had to remove from the building. Every day he was worried he’d catch the coronavirus after interacting with someone who likely didn’t have access to masks or hand sanitizer.

“Even when I got home, I wouldn’t let my kids touch me,” he said. “It was really mentally draining.”

From future police officer to beloved security guard

Dugar always knew he wanted to serve and protect people. Growing up in Seattle’s Central District, he dreamed of becoming a police officer. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at Central Seattle College but dropped out after a Seattle police officer told him he didn’t need a degree to become a cop. Dugar joined the Seattle Police Explorers program and started working at a video store and the Meridian movie theater, near Westlake Center, to make money.

After three years with the Explorers though, Dugar started falling “out of love” with police work. On his ride-alongs with officers he witnessed firsthand the hostility between community members and officers, and decided he didn’t want that to be his career.

“Everywhere you go, people are giving you the middle finger,” he said. “We’re just trying to protect the neighborhood and trying to keep you safe.” 

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One day at work, Dugar’s friend from the theater showed him his paycheck from his new job as a security guard. The friend made around $675 in two weeks — more than what Dugar could make in a month.

“I was like, ‘Hey, get me on that, too!’ ” Dugar said. 

Not only would he be paid better, he’d be keeping people safe. At age 21, he became employee 186 with Star Protection Agency on May 24, 2006. He kept his first pay stub so that when he retires, no one can dispute how many years of service he’s given — one of many financial lessons his grandfather taught him.

Fast-forward 15 years and Dugar hasn’t moved from the building where he got his first permanent posting. 

“I love this site so much,” Dugar said. “People are like, ‘You don’t want to go nowhere else?’ and I say, ‘Nope, I like it right here.’ ”

Before COVID sent downtown workers to their home offices, Dugar looked forward to doling out fist bumps when he did his hourly rounds. Whenever he met someone new who worked in the building, he’d give them his phone number and tell them to call if they ever felt unsafe leaving. If he was still on the job, he’d walk them to their cars, the bus stop or wherever they needed to go.

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“I was always the one doing office orientations walking people through the office, and I would make sure that as quickly as possible, they would meet Demetrus so they would know a friendly face,” said Kevin Haag, administrative director at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, with offices on the third and fourth floors. “He would make sure nobody slipped between the cracks.” 

Haag and Dugar started working in the building within a year of each other. Over the years, Haag said, he watched Dugar’s four children grow up through the pictures he would share while stopping by on his nightly rounds.

Dugar also oversaw security at the neighboring Hoge Building until new ownership took over in September 2018. At the time, rumors circulated in both buildings that the new owners might take Dugar away to a different assignment. When Haag’s staff overheard this, they flooded the management with phone calls and emails begging to keep Dugar at Broderick. 

“Everybody rallied behind him,” Haag said. “People didn’t want to see him go.”

Guarding a “ghost town”

During COVID, Dugar rarely saw anyone at work besides guards from other buildings and the homeless folks who slowly became the neighborhood’s dominant feature in the absence of tourists and office workers. Occasionally a staffer would come in to pick something up from the office, but otherwise Pioneer Square and the Broderick building were eerily quiet.

“Downtown just looked like a ghost town,” Dugar said. “It was the most eerie feeling — like a rapture.”

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Haag remembers the sidewalks were suddenly empty of people waiting for buses. Those who stayed behind, Haag said, had long called Pioneer Square home — people living on the streets or in the cluster of shelters dotting the neighborhood.

Each morning as he parked his car, Dugar crossed his fingers that he wouldn’t find too many people sleeping in his building’s doorways or using drugs on the steps. Some mornings he had to remove five or six people from the property.

Any time he has to ask a person to move, he approaches them calmly and with a little swagger, saying something like, Hey, good morning, man, I gotta have these stairs clear right here, so I’m gonna have to ask you to leave. 

“Nine times out of 10, the people who I encounter leave with no problem,” Dugar said. 

He does get frustrated when the same people return multiple times a day, or multiple days in a row, and he repeatedly has to tell them to move. 

“Now you’re disrespecting me. I was nice that first time, but now you’re starting to really make me upset,” he said. With a voice he can raise and harden, Dugar can intimidate when he needs to. He started dumping soapy water down the corner steps to de-stink them in the summer and realized it also dissuades people from sleeping or sitting there.

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Even though the office workers and tourists abandoned Pioneer Square during the pandemic’s early months, Dugar still had to keep his doorways and stairs clear of people. If his boss or the engineers came by the building and saw people loitering, they’d know Dugar wasn’t doing his job. 

“It makes me look bad, and I’m not trying to look bad,” he said. 

For all the different duties he performs, Dugar gets paid about $21 an hour and works a 40-hour week. Since his wife lost her teaching job with the Kent schools last September, he’s worked 30 to 40 hours of overtime at Pacific Place to make ends meet. Even with the extra hours, he had to dig into his savings and investments.

Dugar said he’s watched Seattle go through good and tough times over the years, and he disagrees with the sentiment that “Seattle is dying.”

“I really think that’s a false narrative,” Dugar said.

He points to the influx of big tech companies and subsequent surge in cost of living and the worsening homelessness. A lack of law enforcement action downtown during the first two years of the pandemic allowed bad habits to form that are now difficult to break.

“There was nobody to really, you know, enforce anything down here because everyone was at home,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to wrest back control when they had free rein for two years.”

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Hopes for a return to normal soon 

Now that some workers are returning to the office, Dugar can feel Pioneer Square springing back to life. Some of his building’s tenants, including many of Haag’s colleagues from the Northwest Immigrants Rights Project, have returned to their offices. He’s thrilled to see some familiar faces back in the building, and perhaps meet some new ones, too — prospective tenants have been touring the empty suites over the past few weeks, he said.

“If there’s nobody here, they don’t need me here!” Dugar said. “I need people to come back, man.”

One person Dugar won’t see as often is Haag, who’s transitioning to a more remote job and will work from home most of the time. He’ll miss seeing Dugar and catching up each day. 

While Haag said he’d be surprised if many people returned to the office full time now that they have the option to work from home, Dugar said he thinks the building will be back to normal again by this time next year. He said he feels more confident now than he did even a month ago.

“I’ll have my food trucks around and the lunch rush will be back,” Dugar said wistfully. “The good old days — it’s literally right around the corner.”