published Friday, June 1st, 2012

Chattanooga police take on unruly teens

Lisa Andrews, owner of Jax Liquors, talks about the large number of teenagers that sometimes fill the sidewalk and her parking lot on weekends.
Lisa Andrews, owner of Jax Liquors, talks about the large number of teenagers that sometimes fill the sidewalk and her parking lot on weekends.
Photo by Angela Lewis.
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    Police cars are parked on Market Street on Thursday evening. Eleven more officers will be added to weekend patrols in response to large groups of disruptive teens in the downtown area.
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
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Chattanooga police are implementing a new zoning plan for officers downtown after responding to calls of disruptive teens.

Last weekend, 32 citations were issued to juveniles, including 14 for obstructing the sidewalk and 18 for disorderly conduct.

"It's the same kids. It's the ones who used to come down to Coolidge Park. They've just changed locations," said Police Chief Bobby Dodd.

With summer ahead and teens out of school, police are adding 11 officers on weekends who will be assigned by blocks through downtown to the riverfront. Two officers will be assigned to the Walnut Street Bridge and another will be assigned to Frazier Avenue on the North Shore, Dodd said.

People complained last week about teens trespassing on private property, setting off car alarms, shouting, pushing each other, blocking the streets and disturbing businesses. The teens threw rocks at officers when confronted. No one was injured, but some nearby cars were damaged, Dodd said.

"I know for a couple of weeks one of our managers was concerned about leaving at night," said Brian Rickett, a manager at Big River Grille on Broad Street.

Rickett, who works days, said employees have seen as many as 50 teens congregate.

One block over at Jax Liquors, 216 Market St., employees have witnessed more than 100 people blocking sidewalks and the parking lot. Officers were called one night about a month ago when the group refused to move and was preventing patrons from coming into the business. One girl, who was blocking the driveway, refused to move, said Lisa Andrews, who has owned the store for the past 35 years. Rather than argue, Andrews called police.

"The problem is I don't think most of these kids mean anything or want to cause trouble, it's just that many kids in any area unsupervised, they are going to cause problems," she said.

Last week, police cited those 16 and older, and contacted parents or guardians of younger teens. The city's Southside prevention center, which features video games and computers, will open again this weekend, Dodd said. The center will hold teens ages 13 to 17 until their guardians pick them up.

He said most teens don't seem to be shopping at businesses or eating at restaurants. For many, the draw is the downtown movie theater, Carmike Majestic 12, 311 Broad St.

On April 21, police received tips through social media that gang members were going to fight each other nearby. They squelched the incident.

The theater's management did not respond to an interview request Thursday.

The downtown area has had sporadic outbreaks of violence in the past involving teens -- mostly in the spring and summer.

In March 2011, shots rang out in Coolidge Park after a group of 300 youths used social media and congregated in a flash mob. No one was struck by the bullets.

In March 2010, three adults and two juveniles were injured in a shooting in the park.

The city responded by banning juveniles from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. unless they were with a parent or guardian. Citywide, the curfew for juveniles is 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends.

Andrews said she plans to contact City Council members in hopes of lowering the curfew, even by just an hour, for juveniles. On weekends, her store closes at 11 p.m. when juveniles can still be out unattended.

"I don't think that's unreasonable. If parents think it is, sorry," Andrews said.

Dodd said he hopes to strike a happy medium with extra officers downtown and avoid being heavy-handed.

However, Dodd said police will not allow groups to cause disorders.

"We're not going to tolerate disruptive behavior," he said. "We're not going to tolerate any violence. ... If we have to deal with it, we will."

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