Police Crack Down On Underage Crowds On Washington Avenue

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 DOWNTOWN ST. LOUIS (KPLR)-St. Louis police turned to a "festival" permit to give them authority to bar anyone under age 21 from the entertainment district along Washington Avenue after 10 pm on Friday and Saturday this weekend.

Officers barricaded the street at each intersection barring east and west traffic but leaving the north-south streets open. Police and security staff hired by some of the clubs and bars manned the barricades to check the ages of anyone trying to walk in.

The curfew lasted until 4 am on each night.  Some business managers worried the barricades would hurt their business particularly valet parking.

St. Louis Police Lt. Dan Zarrick said he realized the valet parkers were making some of the greatest sacrifices as police fine tuned their approach to controlling underage activity on the street.

In recent months, large crowds of the under-21 age group clogged sidewalks and drove slowly along Washington Avenue blocking traffic.  It made it difficult for police to arrest underage drinkers or to determine who was not a legitimate customer of a restaurant or bar and was therefore violating the city's ordinance against drinking in public.

Bars and restaurants with sidewalk service were asked to close that down at midnight to assist in clearing out the underage citizens.

Some residents approved of the new approach while others questioned the decision to close sidewalk bar service at midnight.  "I hope that it is temporary," said one long time downtown resident, "but it seems like a poorly laid effort to fix the problem.  It doesn't necessarily take care of the problem," he complained.

Lt. Zarrick  said he hoped closing down the patio service would not be part of the permanent solution.

One resident out walking his dog Saturday evening spoke of the neighborhood getting "rough" over the last few weeks.  But he praised the recent  extra police presence and the decision to "card" people entering the area.

"The younger crowd is trouble," said another dog walker.  He thinks the new tactics are working.  This weekend people were allowed to return to parking their cars on Washington Avenue.  Police at barricades were prepared to let them out when they were ready to leave the area.

"Washington Avenue at two o'clock in the morning as three o'clock bars spill out probably isn't the best place for a 17 year old  to be," said Lt. Zarrick.  He urged the city and the region to work to find some things for them to do that aren't in nightclub districts.

Friday night two persons were arrested, one for drinking in public and one on outstanding warrants.

The St. Louis Police Department wants to hear from Washington Avenue patrons about their experiences and their opinions regarding the new safety efforts.  Email the department at communityresponse@slmpd.org.

You can reach me at Betsey.bruce@tvstl.com or on Facebook at Betsey Bruce on FOX2.

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