Mischief level linked to weather
At 2:15 a.m., officer Michael McLaren and I were walking near 14th and Ohio streets when a snowball whizzed past us. McLaren stopped, turned around slowly and walked toward an apartment he’d just passed.
The person on the balcony ran inside, slammed the door and turned the lock with a “click.”
It was perhaps the biggest piece of mischief we encountered last Saturday night, when I tagged along with McLaren to get a sense of what it’s like for police to handle the bar-closing traffic on what is typically the busiest night of the week.
In the past year, police have seized more than 22 guns from the downtown area – most of them on Saturday nights near Last Call, 729 N.H. There’s been a deadly shooting outside The Granada and gunshots fired inside Last Call.
But with snow falling throughout the city, this wasn’t a typical Saturday night. I came expecting AK-47s and got snowballs instead.
The night began with a briefing inside the police department, 111 E. 11th St. McLaren and the 13 or so other officers who were on duty gathered in a squad room to meet with Sgt. Dave Hubbell, shift supervisor.
Hubbell told two officers to be prepared to get the prisoner-transport vehicle – a van-like apparatus known in common terms as a paddywagon – ready sometime around 2 a.m., depending on what was happening at Last Call.
I signed a release form – a requirement for LPD visitors who do “ride-alongs” – and McLaren and I headed for a squad car.
McLaren told me he’s been an LPD officer for the past nine years and has been working midnight shifts the past 20 months. Prior to being at LPD, he worked for the Hays Police Department.
He said he prefers the midnight shift – not because of the hours, but because of the type of activity that happens overnight, including lots of in-progress crimes and catching drunken drivers.
“I like the work,” he said.
Hitting the streets – sort of
McLaren’s first call came in through the dispatch center: a report of a disturbance on Almira Avenue in eastern Lawrence.
We headed east out of the police department parking lot, skidding across the snow-covered roads.
This was when the good stuff began, I thought. Now we’re going to hit the streets. I pictured myself like the crews on the TV show “COPS,” chasing behind as officers leap over fences to subdue a drunken suspect who is unleashing a stream of profanity.
That’s when McLaren told me I would have to stay in the car.
He told me he didn’t want to have to worry about me in addition to whatever was happening at the disturbance.
McLaren shined his spotlight on an SUV to reveal an angry young woman with two men, one of whom appeared to be her boyfriend. McLaren got out, approached them quickly and began asking questions.
I sat in the car and sipped coffee.
Two other officers arrived. They questioned the men one at a time outside the car and eventually let them go on their way.
When McLaren came back to the car, I asked him what happened. He said he couldn’t comment because of the department’s policies.
Things got a little better when we headed downtown for some bar checks. Here, McLaren told me, I could get out of the car and walk along.
We cruised down New Hampshire Street, passed Last Call, and turned into the snow-covered parking lot of Borders, 700 N.H., which is used by club-goers.
“Looks pretty dead,” McLaren said, noticing just a handful of cars in the lot. “Usually this lot will fill up.”
Our next stop was It’s Brothers, 1105 Mass. McLaren said the purpose of a bar check is to watch for obvious underage drinking violations, to make sure the bar isn’t overly crowded, and to get a sense of the crowd’s attitude.
The place was packed: thumping music, people gyrating on the dance floor, women pouring drinks mixed with Red Bull. We nudged our way through the crowd slowly and made it to the back of the bar, where McLaren shined a flashlight on a set of the bar’s permits and licenses hanging on the wall.
“I didn’t see anything obvious in there,” he said after emerging from the bar without incident.
We met up with another officer and made the rounds to other bars: the Granada, Fatso’s, Replay Lounge, Red Lyon Tavern, Jackpot Saloon and Harbour Lights.
For the most part, the crowds were friendly, but some people act as if they’re the first person to ever see a police officer inside a bar.
“Get’r done! Get’r done! Yeah! Stay on top of it! The boys in blue!” one man shouted inside the Replay as McLaren passed.
It seemed that the more alcohol people consumed, the more likely that they would want to shake a police officer’s hand. As a rule, McLaren doesn’t shake hands with people on the street because it could compromise his safety. Instead, he offers them a tap of his fist.
As the night went on, we made a few more stops, including a report of a man throwing snowballs at 14th and Vermont streets and a fight at a party near Ninth Street and Highland Drive.
Around 1:30 a.m., news came over the radio: Last Call already was closed for the night – an hour and a half ahead of its normal closing time.
“I guess they called a snow day or something,” a voice said over McLaren’s radio.
As drunken bar patrons poured out onto Massachusetts Street shortly before 2 a.m., McLaren and other officers went to keep order outside the busiest place they’d seen downtown that night: It’s Brothers.
McLaren said the officers are there mainly to prevent problems – to be a visible deterrent to people who might otherwise be getting in a fight or causing some other kind of trouble. It’s also a chance to mingle with the public.
Outside It’s Brothers, two men wrestled on the sidewalk and crashed to the ground. Another man threw snow onto the bar’s awning. A woman wandered the crowded sidewalk with a broken cigarette dangling in her lips.
“Shouldn’t you guys be at Last Call or something like that?” one man asked.
The amount of time people linger outside a bar depends on the weather, McLaren said.
“If it’s nice, they hang around quite a while,” he said.
The crowd dispersed quickly at Brothers, so McLaren then headed up the slick hill to 14th and Ohio streets, where there was a report of a snowball fight outside The Hawk.
As he drove around trying to find a parking spot, there was a “thud” on the outside of the car: a snowball.
McLaren and other officers gathered in front of the bar, then crossed Ohio and 14th streets toward the pizza place below The Wheel, where students had stumbled to find slices of pizza to soak up the alcohol in their systems.
“Where’s my sister at? Do you know?” one man asked a friend.
“I have no idea,” the friend said.
McLaren, with a stocking cap on his head and a deadpan expression on his face, stood around making small talk with students – warning them not to throw snowballs at strangers and giving fist taps to those who wanted a handshake. A man with a pizza crust in one hand announced to McLaren that he was not sober.
“Have you ever gotten someone for peeing around here?” another student asked him. “Have you ever Maced someone?”
At 2:13 a.m., McLaren was satisfied the crowd was dying down, so he headed back to his car.
On the way, he saw a man carrying a basketball-sized chunk of snow over his head.
“Why don’t you put that down?” McLaren said. The man complied and walked away.
“No good could have come of that,” McLaren said.