Eastside Communities Work Together to Prevent Disturbances Rooted in Social Media
Police chiefs and city officials from Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights, South Euclid and more continue discussions about how to prevent 'flash mobs'
Eastside communities are working together to try to combat disruptions from large groups of youth that have marred recent community events like the Coventry Street Arts Fair and the Shaker Heights fireworks.
The Cleveland Heights Police Department has taken precautions for the next large outdoor event, the Cain Park Arts Festival, by adding extra officers. And nearby departments are just a phone call away if the city needs help, said Cleveland Heights Police Chief Jeffrey Robertson.
It is believed that large numbers of youth from all over the Cleveland area are using Twitter and other social media to organize meet-ups at the same place and time. Some of these “flash mobs,” (which historically haven't always had a negative connotation; the AT&T commercial is a perfect example) have resulted in confrontations with police, and caused city officials to rethink their procedures and laws.
Police chiefs from Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights said they are meeting with chiefs from South Euclid, Beachwood, University Heights and Lyndhurst, just to name a few, to discuss what can be done about this phenomenon and other issues.
"We’re seeing what we have in common and seeing what we can do for each other in regards to these flash crowds that are happening," Robertson said.
And Cleveland Heights police are monitoring social media sites, said Mayor Ed Kelley.
At Monday’s Shaker Heights fireworks show, thousands of kids were there from all over, said Shaker Heights Police Chief D. Scott Lee. A few fights broke out, and two teens were arrested. Kids also appeared to be threatening to throw rocks at police, he said.
Shaker Heights called in extra officers, including a handful from Cleveland Heights, to help disperse the crowd, Lee said. Though there were no injuries during the show and some attendees were not aware of the problems, a mother called and said her son’s jaw was broken in one of the large fights on nearby side streets after the event.
This story probably sounds familiar to Cleveland Heights residents who were there after the Coventry Street Arts Fair ended June 26, when fights broke out, teens refused to leave and destroyed landscaping in the area, and police made 16 arrests. And just like at the Shaker fireworks, the day began peacefully.
“In light of what happened in Cleveland Heights, we were prepared,” Lee said. “The majority of kids show up just to have a good time and meet with their friends, and unfortunately what happens when communities cut back on resources like fireworks, there are little opportunities to attend fireworks. So we get kids from all over the place. There is a lot of rivalry … we have to be prepared for that volatility.”
The two arrested were from Euclid and Cleveland, Lee said. And only two out of 16 arrested in Coventry were from Cleveland Heights.
“Ninety percent of these kids are not our kids,” Kelley said.
Coventry merchants will meet and decide if they want to continue or cancel the second Coventry Street Arts Fair, planned for July 24. If they do want to have the event, the city must grant them permission, he said.
In addition to monitoring social media and calling in extra officers when needed, Cleveland Heights called a special meeting and implemented a 6 p.m. curfew law for minors in the Coventry and Cedar Lee business districts. There are exceptions to the revised curfew ordinance, passed at Tuesday’s council meeting — kids can still go to the library, concerts and to work. Basically, they have to have a purpose for being in the business districts and carry letters in some circumstances.
Since the law was enacted June 29, just days after the Coventry fair, no one has been arrested for curfew violations in those designated areas, Robertson said.
“I’ve told the guys on the police department that we’re in information dissemination mode,” Robertson said. “We’re getting the word out to the parents, to the juveniles, that this is what’s going on, this is the law that’s in place right now. A lot of people have a lot of questions about the ordinance.”
Kelley said the city is mailing letters from council first class likely by next Thursday to residents and merchants and a copy of the ordinance to explain the new law. Religious organizations, officials in other cities and the county will also receive the information.
"We’re not just sitting there giving tickets," Kelley said, adding that it is rare for council to send out letters. The fine is $50. "We’re educating people and warning people about what the curfew laws are.”
The city will also install about 20 cameras in Coventry in the next few weeks, Robertson said, a project that has been in the works for awhile. They will cost about $50,000 and help police monitor the area, much like the cameras in the Cedar Lee district.
Other cities are also working to prevent crime caused by large groups of mostly teens.
Cleveland police got word that there may be a flash mob in Shaker Square last weekend, and sent extra patrols just in case.
“(They) had the area covered very well, and we didn’t see any activity,” said Kristin Cala, senior director of commercial property management for the Coral Company, which owns much of the area.
Cleveland Heights City Council members also emphasized that this is happening in other cities in Northeast Ohio and across the country.
“I know the chiefs are looking at this not just as a city-by-city type of thing, but a regional thing,” Kelley said. And it's not the first time this has happened — teens stormed the movie theater and Wal-Mart in Severance Town Center in the winter of 2010 and last year's Coventry Street Arts Fair.
Lee said he and other police chiefs will continue to meet regularly and keep the lines of communication open.
“We share information and share common borders, and because we do, we share common problems,” he said. “And by sharing information and working together, we can provide a higher level of service and a more efficient level of service to the communities.”