KSTP Investigates: Sunday Night Chaos at Downtown Bars
It's only one night of the week, but Sundays often turn into chaos in downtown Minneapolis, leading to fights, stabbings, shootings and more.
But why Sunday nights, and what exactly goes down?
5 Eyewitness News went in search of answers--to the crime, the crowds and the cost to control both.
The epicenter of the problem seems to be the intersection of Fourth Street and First Avenue. We went there late Sunday night, July 1. By the time bars and clubs let out around 2 a.m. Monday, July 2, the streets were closed off to traffic and filled with police and sheriff's deputies. A state patrol chopper hovered in the air, shining bright flood lights down upon the crowds.
"Ain't nobody gonna fight nobody!" screamed one group of girls to another, as an altercation that began in one of the bars spilled out into the night.
"They want to put me in jail-- for what!" screamed another young man after police approached him and asked him to end his verbal confrontation with people at a bus stop.
Around the corner another angry girl tried to free herself from her friend's restraints in an attempt to fight someone. "Tracy, no!" screamed the friend as she grappled to keep "Tracy" under control.
In all, more than 30 police officers--on foot and on horseback--were joined by a dozen sheriff's deputies, and even more private security.
"Move down the street please," a security officer said to one loitering young woman.
"You need to chill the f*** out!" she screamed back at him.
Police say at least half of the recent criminal activity downtown can be linked to young people under the age of 21. Some now question whether bars should be allowed to admit 18, 19 and 20 year olds at all.
At one downtown bar, a 5 Eyewitness News employee, who is 20, got a hand stamp at the door, which would allow her to drink -- despite telling the bouncer she wasn't of legal age. Hidden cameras captured the exchange (see attached video). When told what happened, First Police Precinct Inspector Eddie Frizell was upset.
"Well, that's absolutely unacceptable," he said. "Unacceptable. We will start to document those clubs that are permitting these types of things so we can take regulatory action."
The owners of the bar in question later told KSTP by email that they would work to properly re-train their staff when it comes to ID-checking.
In the meantime, other clubs were marking those under 21 with an 'x' from a black magic marker on both hands, at the door. Those of legal age were given wrist bands. Club-goers told us, and we saw for ourselves, young people going to the bathroom to wash the marks off and head for the bar.
When we informed Joanne Kaufman, the executive director for downtown's Warehouse District Business Association, she said, "Perhaps they [bar and club owners] need to look at how they're doing it, and if the Xs are that easily washed off then that's something they need to review internally."
She believes that under-agers should be cordoned off entirely from those who are of legal age to drink away from any and all alcohol.
Just one week earlier, during the early morning hours of Monday, June 25, there were three shootings just off First Avenue at closing time. On Monday, July 2, law enforcers were making every effort to avoid a repeat situation.
The horseback patrols took the lead, essentially following club-goers down the sidewalk to get them to disperse. Said one young man leaving a club, "It looked like sheep--like a foreman and sheep."
Several arrests were made, several other people were detained for questioning, and two guns were confiscated. But some in the midst of it all said it was nothing but harassment--that heavy police presence hurts, not helps. "Everybody ain't a bad guy," said one clearly annoyed club attendee. "We ain't a bad guy."
The cost of it all? Police said they spent roughly $11,000 on this one night. Hennepin County kicked in another $4,500 of its additional deputy presence. The state patrol said there were no extra chopper expenses.
Inspector Frizell defended the heavy law enforcement presence. "This is not something we brought down here to create a police state," he said. "This is just officers doing their job with the element."
Also on the scene that night: City Councilman Don Samuels, He was watching, he explained, "to take it in, see how it feels, to see how I would feel if I were the average citizen."
Samuels heads the council's Public Safety Committee. He appeared stunned at what he saw. "I think if it takes this much to create peace for people to socialize it's too much. And I think we have to do something systemically to correct that."
By 2:35 a.m., the streets were basically clear. Police prepared to let traffic flow again.
Several days later police would announce that their show of force was worth it because, on July 2, violent crime was down 40 percent compared to the Sunday before. They also pointed out that arrests in the warehouse district have increased 70 percent in the last month.
Yet violent crime overall in downtown Minneapolis is up more than 60 percent compared to 2011.
"It gives the entire city a black eye," Kaufman said.
Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at email@example.com.