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Two Meetings Tuesday Focus on Problem of Unruly Youth in the Loop

Police personnel from four agencies - Wash U, U City, St. Louis and Metrolink met today to talk about tackling the problem of unruly teens in the Loop.

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.

George Lenard April 13, 2011 at 12:45 PM
Who will step up and add to the plan the essential element of an alternative place for kids to go on weekends to see, be seen, and hang out with, their peers?
Beverly Brandt April 13, 2011 at 12:58 PM
George, I think a place for kids to go is a great idea and in my imaginings, I think that turning Delmar-Harvard into a community center would be part of that idea. It's a building with large spaces such as a gym, it's on the Loop and most important, it's right across the street from the police department. But of course, any place has to be managed by paid and qualified staff of some sort, which would mean attaching a cost to entry. There's more in my imagination, but I'm not sure how feasible a center like this would be. It's good to get the wheels turning, though.
Irv Logan April 13, 2011 at 01:13 PM
Again, I suggest making lemonade out of lemons. First considerably raise the court cost & fine for loitering, disruptive behavior & other unlawful activities. (there has to be pain for bad behavior) The City also needs the revenue. (The City can use the revenue to pay for the trouble they cause.) If the troublemakers can't pay the Court cost & heavy fines then offer them community service. There are non-profits and public facilities that could use the labor all over town. We know the offenders can get from place to place... so it shouldn't be a problem of transportation? The Green Center has used non- violent Juvenile offenders in just such a manner in co-operation with the St. Louis County juvenile Justice system. This way there is the opportunity to introduce them to a different way to relate to the community and to each other. This is a viable alternative to just running the youth somewhere else to continue to cause problems. We must remember that some day in the not to distant future they will return either as productive citizens or a bigger problem.
Holston Black Jr. April 13, 2011 at 07:52 PM
I agree with the other comments, stiffer fines and court costs could help pay for a community center. Community service coupled with a community center which would serve as a hub for all of these activities could be the answer. Good ideas can come from our citizens if we only ask, all ideas don't necessarily come from the top down.
Nick Frederiksen April 14, 2011 at 01:06 AM
Having an alternative is always good. The troublesome activities that I have observed would not be tolerated in a controlled environment, however, there are a portion of the youth that would really appreciate having a good alternative. When community members make room for those who cause trouble they will do so. The loop is just one of a number of good places in University City. It is the highest profiled location. It is a sad fact that courts do not always believe that the law enforcement officer's version of what a public peace disturbance is. Those that can should be encouraged to be available to make a complaint, be a witness or as a victim if that comes to be. At this point our community is a victim. I have that freedom and will make the time to go to the loop regardless. Help the authorities and the business owners claim ownership of a great place. Raise fines, find alternatives for the young and stay involved.
3rd Ward Rogue April 14, 2011 at 06:54 AM
These unruly youth have also been busy in our neighborhoods. Our car and our neighbor's car were both vandalized a couple of weeks ago so it is not just a spring break phenomenon. If we are not able to control crime in our area, my biggest fear is we will lose both businesses and residents. Crime rates and school district performance are 2 major factors people look at when moving into a neighborhood.

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