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Wednesday, June 20,2012

Checking in on Washington Sq.

Quieter at quitting time, police say. A visit supports them.

by Sam Inglot

It’s 10 minutes before closing time for the six watering holes of Washington Square in downtown Lansing. Instead of drunks veering off the sidewalk into the street and loud crowds congesting the walkways, as there were in April and May, there is calm. 

The three police officers patrolling the block on foot could have had something to do with it.

Words used in the past by some area-shop owners to describe the 2 a.m. bar scene on the block between Allegan and Washtenaw streets include: “craziness,” “ruckus” and “scary.” But the vibe in the early hours on Saturday seemed just more lively than anything else.

A bolstered, on-foot police presence was one remedy, in the opinion of several shop owners, and the tactic seemed to work. Three officers stood on the southwest corner of the block next to one of their cruisers parked near Club X-Cel, with another cop car parked across the street near The Firm. The officers walked both sides of the strip and didn’t appear to deal with any problematic bar patrons. 

Their presence kept people from loitering after closing time. The regular megaphone and siren crowd dispersal routine used by bouncers at Club X-Cel did not need to be deployed, and the police took off about 15 minutes after closing time when the last major group of people broke up. 

Being on Washington Square late on the weekends is far from dangerous, said Marshall Weathers, 29, who was out at the bars for the night. Sure, Weathers said, sometimes a fight springs up or someone breaks a window, but those situations are not indicative of the culture on the block. Problems are usually because of, as he put it, “a few young, drunk, idiots” that get out of line every now and then.

It was more than a few young, drunk idiots that were involved in a situation in late April when a crowd of roughly 60 people got caught up in a fight. The mob created a chaotic scene as it ebbed and flowed through the streets, cutting off traffic and eventually drawing the attention of police.

That was the last major incident to happen on Washington Square, said Mike Yankowski, a Lansing Police Department patrol division captain.

“Have there been citations for open intoxication or disorderly conduct? Yeah, probably some of those,” he said. “But nothing like what happened back in April.”

The department aims to put “extra resources” in bar areas like Washington Square during peak bar times Thursday through Saturday, he said. Two to six officers in the area and foot patrols like the one on Saturday are more common as the warm weather bar-season opens up.

Yankowski said he will meet with bar owners, managers and staff from the East Michigan Avenue and Washington Square districts on Tuesday to go over upcoming events that bars should be aware of, best practices for keeping business orderly after closing and policy procedures. The meeting is a regular thing, he said, that helps “open lines of communication” between bars and police. It helps push bar operators to “take ownership” of any issues they’re having.

“When everyone is on the same page, everyone can be successful,” he said.



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