Issues with young people behaving badly in the Loop on weekends took center stage at two meetings on Tuesday.
Tuesday morning, Loop business owners packed a room in for the the Loop Special Business District meeting. Also in attendance were the University City mayor, police chief and city manager, along with councilmembers Terry Crow and Stephen Kraft.
The business owners expressed their frustration at the large groups of kids loitering and running amok in the Loop on weekends. Some of the incidents involve kids walking by outside diners and screaming in their face, stealing cellphones and general disruptive behavior.
"It's is a mob mentality," said Patrick Liberto, the owner of . "I grew up in New Orleans. I've been in a parade route. That's what this is. This is a parade route without a parade." He said the acting out is going to continue until business owners "own the community."
Bill Courtney, owner of Cheese-ology said he had a very stressful weekend policing the crowds around his restaurant. "I spent the vast majority of Saturday night out in front of my store protecting my guests."
"I stood out there putting my body in between the kids and my patrons." He said when a fight broke out across the street from his restaurant patrons took shelter in his establishment. He said the current weekend atmosphere is not safe.
When someone suggested he think about hiring private security, he said he doesn't have the money.
"I've been in business nine months. I've put my life-savings into this joint. No, I can't even afford to hire one more staff member. That's why I'm on the street doing this," he said,
University City will re-consider lowering curfew hours. Currently, people 17 and younger have to be off the streets in the Loop by 9pm. The City will also re-evaluate police staffing in the Loop. This past weekend, four police officers patrolled the Loop on Friday, five on Saturday and four on Sunday.
"We've heard you loud and clear," said City Manager Lehman Walker at the morning Loop business owners meeting. "We know that we've got some challenges that we need to deal with very quickly."
Walker said all the young people causing issues in the Loop are not all University City kids, so U City has to work with adjacent municipalities, which U City did at an afternoon meeting at Blueberry Hill.
The noon gathering brought together high-ranking law enforcement officers from St. Louis city, University City, Washington University and Metrolink , as well as the University City City Manager Lehman Walker, Jeff Rainford, Mayor Francis Slay's chief of staff, Joe Edwards, owner of Blueberry Hill, and St. Louis Alderman Lyda Krewson (28th Ward). The group talked about how to make the Loop safer. However, the meeting itself was off limits to the press.
Afterwards, Edwards, Walker and Rainford briefed the media. Rainford and Walker said people will start seeing the safety initiatives the group discussed right away.
"The plan is to get police officers out of their cars and into the streets observing the behavior, working with merchants and making people feel better and safer," said Mayor Slay's Chief of Staff Jeff Rainford. However, Rainford said on the City side at least, it won't look like a police state. He said the main focus is for police officers to partner with business owners and patrons.
"We could certainly take a SWAT team and put them in mean looking clothes and have them walk up and down the street glaring at everybody, but that's not the right way to do it," said Rainford. He would like to have the municipal courts available right away to start processing the trouble makers. He said a lot of the kids don't have prior records. "It's almost like they are on Spring Break and they come down here (The Loop) and just sort of think this is the thing you do to have a good time."
Joe Edwards stressed that the Loop is safe and that everyone is welcome. He said the unruly behavior is being done by a small group of teen-agers.
When asked for details of the plan to combat the disruptive behavior, Edwards said, "there's no sense ever saying a plan ahead of time and letting the people that might be causing an issue now and then know about it.
He said the various officials are just being pro-active and trying to nip any problems in the early stages. "The first hint of anything we always get together," he said. "So far, everything has been very minor."
Currently, U City is accepting bids to to install in the Loop.