Friday, February 21, 2014

We'll do our part to address Plaza issues; the rest is up to you

When large groups of unruly young people gather on the Country Club Plaza and incite disorder, police are the ones who are called in to resolve the situation. But this is not solely a police issue. It’s a community issue, and we need the support of the community to solve it. We are going to be taking stronger action than before, but all the police work in the world won’t provide safe gathering places and fun activities for teens. Nor can it suddenly convince parents of these young people that their lack of supervision is unacceptable.

First, there is nothing wrong with children younger than 18 enjoying the amenities our city offers. They are as entitled as anyone else to stroll through our entertainment districts. Those young people who are well behaved, appropriately supervised and act within the law are not my concern. It is the few who incite violence, intimidate others, impede traffic and violate other laws who will be the focus of police attention.

We will be assigning additional officers to the Country Club Plaza on upcoming weekends.  Some will be in uniform, and some will be working under-cover. We will enforce ordinance violations. This means we will arrest and detain juveniles who are breaking the law. No longer will we give numerous warnings. Young people breaking the law will be cited and apprehended, and their parents or guardians must come to our holding area in order for them to be released from custody.  Their parents need to know about their behavior and know that we will be holding them responsible for it. Parents need to know it is unacceptable to let their unsupervised children wander the city.

So expect to see increased numbers of arrests in entertainment districts. At this time, the Country Club Plaza has been the only district at which problems have arisen. If issues pop up elsewhere, we will take the same actions there. 

We are working to address any possible issues at the movie theater, where much of the disorder tends to begin. We also have met with Plaza Security and Highwoods Corporation, which manages the Plaza, to discuss the best approaches for keeping order. Rita Valenciano, a U.S. Department of Justice Conciliation Specialist, will be serving as a mediator between Cinemark Theater, Highwoods and young people to resolve the issues that are arising.

But here’s where the rest of the community comes in. City Councilman John Sharp was correct when he said there are no longer many entertainment outlets for youth in the urban core. We were all teenagers once, and most of us just wanted to go hang out with our friends somewhere on weekends and have fun. Today’s young people want that, too, and we can work together to provide that for them.  Several already are stepping up.

Kansas City Parks and Recreation has agreed to open up the Brush Creek Community Center from 7 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays to give young people an entertainment option. We will provide security there. The KCATA will be providing free bus rides for teens from the Plaza to the Community Center (but not the other way around) for the next two weekends.  Local church leaders also are working on coming up with activities for youth.

This is where we need you. We can lament the disorder and espouse negativity. Or we can do something about it. We’re asking you, businesses and organizations of Kansas City, to step up and provide an alternative for these young people. Would your company sponsor a night of fun for youth? Would your church be willing to organize activities? Would your civic group be able to provide access to a fun and safe place? We’re open to suggestions. A free movie or concert.  Karaoke. A sports tournament. A game night. A dance party. Anything where young people will want to gather with their friends and enjoy themselves. Parks and Recreation is able to provide much of this during the summer, but recent incidents have made it clear these outlets for our city’s young people are needed year-round.

The police department is committed to addressing the issues of young people causing disorder on the Country Club Plaza. We can’t provide other entertainment venues for them, however. But many of you can. Ideally, there would be so many other enticing options for teens that they won’t want to just mull around the Plaza.

I pledge to do whatever we can from a public safety perspective to make the Plaza a safe and enjoyable destination for everyone. The rest is up to you.

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