by Max Brantley
PLEASE NOTE CORRECTION: The expanded police presence in the River Market neighborhood was already in place when a couple of shootings occurred Saturday morning. I'd misunderstood what I was told when I originally wrote that expansion of police coverage would result from the shootings.
Two shootings early Saturday in the River Market neighborhood occurred despite that recent increase in police coverage in the area, Lt. Terry Hastings said. He indicated increased police presence began a couple of weeks ago.
There's been an increase in problems associated with gatherings of young people, Hastings said.
"We're going to solve that problem starting this weekend," he said. "We want you come to the River Market, enjoy yourself and have a good time. But if you just come to hang out and cause problems, you're going to get arrested."
Two shootings early Saturday illustrate the problem. Hastings said the police planned to become more aggressive still in preventing congregations of young people that can grow volatile.
A man was shot in the foot about 2 a.m. Saturday in a scuffle that broke out on the parking lot between the Heritage West and East buildings on West Markham, between Scott and Cumberland. When a man broke running from the group with a gun, an officer tried to stop him. The officer said he fired on the man when he pointed the gun at him. The man was hit three times and remained hospitalized Monday. Hastings had no update on his condition or other details about the shooting. The Times also reported an account of two young men who said they'd been assaulted a week earlier in their car a block away, in a parking lot along Markham on the east side of Scott Street.
Hastings said the gatherings were primarily of people too young to enter River Market bars. "They roam the area outside. They come face to face. Sometimes they fight and have disagreements and do silly things. Saturday, one pulled a gun and shot somebody."
The police always have had at least two officers in the core of the River Market entertainment district along President Clinton Avenue, the stretch east of Cumberland Street. But they hadn't regularly ventured into surrounding areas, where young people congregate when River Market police move them out of the central entertainment zone and where they have been occasional reports of muggings and car burglaries. That has changed.
Hastings said officers on weekends now patrol the area between the Arkansas River and Capitol Avenue on the north and south and Broadway and Interstate 30 on the west and east. He wouldn't release precise details on the numbers of additional officers assigned and their schedules. He noted the force is more than 40 officers short of its authorized strength because of city money woes.
Hastings said police will disperse groups gathering around closed businesses. Those younger than 18 can be cited for curfew violations (some have been as young as 15, he said) and older youths could face loitering charges.
"We're going to stop it," Hastings said.