BLOOMINGTON — With the exception of a tow truck’s flashing yellow lights as police enforced new tow zones, Thursday night’s downtown bar scene was relatively calm. Only one fight broke out, and its participants dispersed by the time police arrived.
In the entire month of August 2011, police in the bar district responded to 19 fights on Friday and Saturday nights, one of the reasons it’s been hard to staff the downtown weekend police detail, said Assistant Police Chief Bob Wall.
“You’re definitely more prone to injury working the downtown hire-back due to the intoxication level of several of the people you’re working around,” Wall said.
He said two officers injured – one in October, one in April – just returned to work. According to city manager reports, the department last spring had difficulty finding officers to work the downtown weekend shift, an overtime patrol, because of burn out from “continuous verbal abuse” and “the physical nature most every arrest seems to incur.”
Wall said the department solved that problem, essentially by telling the police union it would force officers to work the shift if no one volunteered.
Working Thursday, officers Eric Riegelein and Michael Luedtke said they didn’t mind the shift, but noted that fights are typical.
Riegelein and Luedtke were two of four officers patrolling the bar district Thursday, double the number that will normally patrol on Thursdays.
Four officers usually patrol the area on Friday and Saturday nights but this weekend that number will be boosted, Wall said, declining to say to what degree.
“This year we’ve stepped it up because we just want to make a statement for the first week to let them know we want them to come down and enjoy themselves and have a good time, but at the same time they need to respect the rights and safety of other people in the city,” Wall said.
New tow zones are meant to make the streets safer for pedestrians. The zones are off limits to regular vehicles between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. They’re located on the south side of the 300 and 400 blocks of West Front Street, the east side of the 500 block of North Main Street and the south side of the 100 block of West Washington Street.
The zones make room for party buses and shuttles.
“Usually word spreads pretty quick,” said Riegelein, as he and Luedtke began writing $20 parking tickets.
From the doors of Fat Jack’s, 511 N. Main St., bartender Josh Tell watched as the tow truck arrived. “Terrible move on the city’s part,” he said, claiming insufficient notice of the zones, which were approved Monday.
He said the parking tickets and tow fees “then take money out of their pockets for spending at local businesses,” but he acknowledged the need to improve pedestrian safety. “It’s a double edged sword. Safety is the most important thing.”
Friday and Saturday nights in downtown Bloomington are typically busy for the police department, which pays overtime to officers who patrol the downtown bar scene.
Month Calls for service Fights Arrests Ordinance violations
Aug. 2011 30 19 8 82
Sept. 2011 Not available
Oct. 2011 Not available
Nov. 2011 23 10 7 65
Dec. 2011 33 23 4 23
Jan. 2012 14 9 8 78
Feb. 2012 21 14 5 33
March 2012 23 13 8 48
April 2012 25 11 5 59
May 2012 27 21 7 34
June 2012 34 22 4 36
July 2012 12 13 5 41
SOURCE: Bloomington Police Department