by Dan Slepian, Dateline producer
Brash, charismatic, impulsive, clever. It's a sure bet that if you hang out with Bill Stanton, these are among the words you would use to describe him. Spend just a few hours on the road with him and you'll soon realize how he got his name--"Wild Bill."
(Photo: L-Bill Stanton, R-Dan Slepian)
As the producer of "Wild Bill: Breaking and Entering," I've spent hundreds of hours with Stanton and while I've done many stories over the years for Dateline, working with him posed a set of challenges I've never encountered before.
Stanton and I were meeting in Las Vegas to film a segment for his special. A crew was going to videotape him as he attempted to break into homes and hotel rooms there. The day before, Stanton was in Phoenix shooting a story for the "Today" show about the dangers of drinking and driving. He showed up in Vegas with a migraine, clearly hung-over. To say he was in a bad mood would be an understatement. He told me he'd pounded a ridiculous number of Vodka shots to show how reckless a potential drunk would be behind the wheel. Stanton suffered through that shoot in Vegas. And so did I.
As the "Today" show's on-air security expert, Stanton has created his own form of the American fire drill. He's snatched volunteer kids to test how unsuspecting passers-by would react, set up valet parking attendants to see if they'd steal from a car, and caught men cheating on their wives.
Is he truly enlightening us about the problems of personal security or, as some critics allege, is he simply promoting himself? Whether or not you agree with his methods, Stanton makes no apologies for illustrating what he says is pervasive apathy when it comes to preventing crime. It's a message he's been touting long before he arrived at NBC.
Stanton's roots in the world of security began in 1984 when he became a beat cop for the NYPD. But just four years later, he retired because of an injury to his arm after he fell chasing a burglar on a routine call.
Stanton re-invented himself. He opened a private investigation company, became a bouncer at trendy nightclubs and hobnobbed with celebrities. Most of all, he made a career of doing what he does best: promoting Bill Stanton. He took on the nickname "Wild Bill," branding himself as a security specialist all over town. His goal: to become the Bob Villa of personal security. He told me how he worked the phones, posing as an agent to get his name in network producers' rolodexes. It worked. Soon, Stanton was popping up on ABC, NBC, FOX, and even Oprah. And then in 2001, Stanton and his larger-than-life persona ended up on the cover of New York Magazine under the banner: "Have Gun, Will Party":
The magazine (which Stanton happily hands out to those who ask for it), was a major springboard for his career. But he says his growing fame then and now is not simply to feed his ego… he says it also helps to serve a higher cause: to keep us on our toes and aware of the dangers around us. It's a simple message he hammers home everywhere he goes. It's our responsibility, he says, to pay attention and to be the eyes and ears for law enforcement and each other.
In shooting with Bill, I was impressed at how Stanton can talk his way into almost any situation. I was amazed at how few people took action when they saw Stanton smashing car windows in a public parking lot. I was surprised and disappointed that he was able to talk his way into so many homes and hotel rooms in that weren't his…even with no sleep and a hangover that day in Las Vegas. I was most troubled how innocent children would be so easily lured near the trunk of Stanton's car.
Is Stanton's message getting through? The other day, I was standing on the train platform on my way to work and saw this billboard, thought about Bill Stanton, and then realized that despite any controversy, he got through to me.
(taken with my cellphone camera)
Originally posted on March 7 for the Dateline special "Wild Bill: Breaking and Entering."