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Archive for Sunday, May 30, 1999

MIDNIGHT MADNESS IN DOWNTOWN LAWRENCE

May 30, 1999

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Even with university students out of town for the summer, downtown Lawrence is never sleepy on the midnight shift.

While downtown partiers clog the sidewalks, creating a human logjam and a din of brazen flirtations and bass-poppin' background music, two young men bid their warm-weather fun adieu.

Lawrence police have slapped handcuffs on them.

A huge crowd at Tremors Night Club on New Hampshire Street watches as officers tag the pair, now face down on a cement parking lot, for a car reported stolen in Topeka. A few onlookers voice challenges to police authority.

The throng thins as police take the men away and shoo drivers out of the parking lot north of the popular dance club.

At the end of it all, a woman in a long, snug dress asks police for help finding the driver's license she thinks she lost. One minute she had it, the next her ticket to over-21 revelry was MIA.

"Downtown. It's a fun district, but it can wear on you after a while because there's so much going on," Officer Jim Martin said a few hours earlier at 11 p.m. Friday, the kickoff to his eight-hour shift.

Closing time

"The floodgates are open," a dispatcher says over the radio. Downtown's bars are closing.

At 1:40 a.m., Martin steers Car No. 137 over to New Hampshire to help with crowd control.

When he arrives, he learns Topeka police have sent word about a stolen car that might be in the city lot next to Tremors.

Police watch for anyone heading to the black Nissan Altima.

Officer Ted Bordman notices someone watching him.

Then he sees two men make a break in the crowd for the four-door ride. Three police officers converge on the suspects, one of whom quickly evokes his right to remain silent.

"That couldn't have gone better," Bordman later calls out to Martin, who will be busy the next hour or so combing the car for evidence.

The adrenalin pumping through Martin's system shines through in the tiny beads of perspiration that have broken out across his forehead.

That surge of epinephrine is why Martin chooses to work during hours when most people are asleep, why he carves the midnight shift out as his territory.

Summer madness

Weekend midnight shifts are a mix of routine traffic stops, alcohol violations, loud parties and brawls.

This particular Friday night, Martin and 12 other officers cruise the streets, alleys, and nooks and crannies of Lawrence. Most of Martin's work will be downtown, the focus of the midnight shift because of the hustle and bustle of Lawrence's entertainment center.

The traffic's a little slimmer than usual because thousands of Kansas University students have headed home for summer break, but downtown Lawrence is rarely dead, Martin says.

"When it warms up, the masses come out," the officer says.

His first stop of the night sends him to a parking lot next to Dos Hombres to back up a fellow officer on a traffic stop.

Five minutes -- from 11:36 p.m. to 11:41 p.m. -- go by.

A taxi driver who's forgotten to turn on his headlights snags Martin's interest a few minutes later at Ninth and Mass.

The lights click on after a brief chat.

But it's not just drivers who grab police attention in downtown Lawrence. Officers also scan the dozens of youngsters who cram into the sawtooth parking along Massachusetts Street to gather with their friends.

"It can be a real problem," says Martin, who has worked for the city for two years and was a Douglas County sheriff's deputy and a military police officer before he joined the department. "Sometimes they mess with people in the cars."

Party patrol

Several blocks away, a party is raging at 18th and Illinois streets.

Officers arrive about 11:50 p.m. to investigate a noise complaint, and a 19-year-old man quickly throws a plastic cup of beer to the ground when Martin shines a light at him.

"Look at that, there's enough left to be tested," Martin says, later issuing the underage drinker a notice to appear in court for being a minor in possession of alcohol.

The woman who threw the party wanders outside a few minutes later. She's initially cooperative with the police and says she wants the strangers at her party thrown out.

"I really do apologize," she says as police herd guests off the lawn and into the house. "I didn't realize it was going to be this big."

Officers finish up a few citations and start to head out when the hostess comes back outside to complain about someone who's throwing beer bottles around.

Police decide it's time to shut the party down.

Sgt. Kirk Fultz, shift supervisor, helps disperse the crowd.

The host and several guests demand to know why it's illegal for friends to get together.

Officers point to the city's noise ordinance.

Fultz later says fun is fine as long as it doesn't affect neighbors.

Acting out

After a few traffic stops, it's time for a fight.

At 1:10 a.m., Martin responds to a call about a fight in progress on Massachusetts. Police scan the street and alleys for a man in a yellow T-shirt and then head east when they hear over the radio that he has escaped in a car.

"I didn't do anything," the suspect says after an officer arrests him for battery.

The man kicks and struggles against the officers, who cuff him on the ground and clamp a restraining device on his legs. It's not unusual for people to cop an attitude, Martin says.

The fight started when the suspect made an obscene gesture toward the victim, witnesses said. When the victim asked what the problem was, the man socked him about three times in the face. The injuries were not serious or readily noticeable.

"Calm down!" friends shout as the suspect yells at the police.

Not a sleepy town

For Martin, working midnights is the Mercedes of police work.

"To me, this is why I do law enforcement," he says. "This is when the most fun stuff happens. I consider this the more hands-on part of law enforcement."

That's why he requests to work the shift. Every four months, Lawrence police officers put in their top shift choices. They can't stay on a shift for more than a year.

Fultz, who supervises the midnight shift and responded to several calls Friday night, says the majority of early morning incidents involve alcohol and other drugs. Domestic arguments almost always involve booze, for example.

The sergeant, with the Lawrence Police Department for more than nine years, says weekends definitely are the busiest for the midnight men and women, though any night can creep up as a crazy one.

"This town is not a sleepy town," he said. "You don't roll the sidewalks up here."

-- Deb Gruver's phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is dgruver@ljworld.com.

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