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August 23, 2014

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Joe Downtown: First Friday arrests plummet, and businesses are pleased

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Metro officers direct pedestrians to the entrance of the traffic flow on East Fremont St. early Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013.

Fremont Street Security

Anna Pokrovskaya, left, and Zlata Pavlova ask Metro officers if they can have a photo taken with them at the  Fremont Street Experience early Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Downtown business operators seemed satisfied, and Metro Police had fewer arrests than in many months on Fremont Street last Friday night.

This was after the Fremont Street Experience management took the unprecedented step of putting a fence around its four-block, canopied area, allowing inside only people with identification proving they were 21 and older. The only other night that is done is on New Year’s Eve.

But for several months, the first Friday of the month has been a busy one for police and a worry to business owners on Fremont Street. Huge crowds of young people have been gathering on east Fremont Street on those nights, which coincide with the First Friday art walk about a mile to the southwest. Police have said they aren’t sure why so many more people decide to drink and party downtown on that night.

On September’s first Friday night, police arrested 84 people, most of them under the Fremont Street Experience canopy. Only a handful were arrested two blocks east on east Fremont, where cattle barricades had been set up to guide people in and out of the one-block area. Police at the entrance also checked IDs, letting no one in who was under 21.

Last Friday night, only 17 people were arrested, said Metro Police Capt. Shawn Andersen, Downtown Area Command. Most of those were in the Fremont Street Experience, he said, with 13 arrested for misdemeanors and the rest for felonies.

Preliminary reports, he added, indicate that almost no one was arrested or cited on east Fremont Street, where for the second time police had set up cattle barricades confining pedestrians to the sidewalk.

One difference this month, Andersen added, is that black-and-white squad cars did not line the middle of east Fremont Street. Last month, the squad cars and police presence was so blatant, even business owners said it “looked like a police state.”

Andersen counted about 10 uniformed officers patrolling the area, in addition to others in plainclothes and two horseback patrols. Unlike last month, officers did not control the flow of people into the barricaded area; Andersen said there simply wasn’t a problem with people gathering on the street.

“I thought it worked well; it was certainly a much more controlled environment,” he also said. “I know some people were glad it happened and others were irritated by it … but I think it made some people feel a bit safer and some it made feel a lot safer.”

“I don’t think we even had any fights,” he added. “All in all, it was a great night.”

Though east Fremont appeared quieter, business owners said they didn’t see a sharp drop in customers.

Xhindi Hazbi, owner of Uncle Joe’s Pizza, said he had his second busiest first Friday night since reopening his restaurant in June.

Michael Cornthwaite, owner of the Downtown Cocktail Room, said his business seemed to increase a bit from a month ago.

Jennifer Metzger said her bar, The Vanguard, was busy all night. She acknowledged that the street seemed very quiet. But she doesn’t blame the police or barricades; she thinks it is related to the federal government shutdown, which has also affected the amount of business she gets during happy-hour.

“It was busy but it wasn’t like that madness in the streets,” Metzger said. “I didn’t hear anybody complain, other than saying ‘it was dead.’”

Bikefest 2013, an annual event that typically draws a big group of motorcycle riders downtown Friday night, was part of the reason the fences were set up around Fremont Street Experience.

Andersen said he won’t know whether the same setup will be used next month until he talks to more downtown business owners.

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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