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September 1, 2014

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Joe Downtown: First Friday crowds likely to see more police this month

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Leila Navidi

Casino Center Boulevard is closed to car traffic during First Friday in Las Vegas on Friday, October 5, 2012.

After tavern owners last month expressed fears that the growing popularity of eastern Fremont Street on First Friday was creating a potential powder keg — one called the street scene “ugly” — expect a much larger police presence this week.

Sources say Metro Police are expected to increase the number of officers from a handful to between 15 and 20 walking and patrolling in the area of Fremont Street, east of Las Vegas Boulevard. Wednesday morning, Metro officers were seen walking eastern Fremont, getting a lay of the land.

A month ago for First Friday — a regular celebration of the arts that draws thousands downtown — the city unexpectedly closed off Fremont Street to traffic, a trial that caught business owners there off guard because they had earlier told the city they didn't want the street closed. Then groups of people set up personal drinking “stations” around the street, where they sat with 12 packs or cases of beer.

This month, the street won’t be closed to vehicle traffic, with the expectation being the street will feel less like a party ground. At the same time, sources say officers are likely to be enforcing an open-container regulations on those who blatantly flaunt the law.

Police a few months ago staged a news conference touting the fact they would first issue warnings then begin enforcing drinking laws.

Some caveats: If you’re at least 21 and drinking a beverage in a plastic cup purchased from one of the bars downtown, it’s unlikely you will earn a citation. If, however, you are spotted sitting around on Fremont Street, on side streets or in nearby parking lots with a 12-pack or booze purchased from anywhere besides downtown, you are likely to be ticketed.

Mike Nolan, general manager of Fremont Street’s El Cortez, welcomes the additional police.

“For the most part, I think everything going on is positive,” he said. “But if there are a few more cops, that’s a good thing. You can have all the bouncers and security you want, but if you have officers walking up and down the street, people tend to respect that.”

Nolan leaves El Cortez around midnight on First Friday but said from surveillance video and from anecdotal reports, it appeared activities that would draw police attention occurred mostly between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m.

“That’s when the fights seem to happen on Sixth and Fremont or the vandalism, in those late hours,” he said.

Nolan, though, emphasized the additional police shouldn't be seen as punitive.

“This isn’t to throw people out,” Nolan said. “It’s about perception and the comfort level of the people are there to have a good time.”

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown, he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.

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