If somehow someone hadn’t heard, the city of Las Vegas and the Metropolitan Police Department are serious about ending trouble on Fremont Street.
Last weekend, the Fremont Street district looked like a cattle yard, with fences up to contain and corral crowds. Metro officers, aided by investor Tony Hsieh’s private Downtown Ranger force, shooed crowds entering from the east and west ends of Fremont Street onto sidewalks.
Officers encouraged, but did not require, the relatively small crowds in the district to walk in the same direction along the cattle guards, resulting in a slow, counterclockwise progression of people attending the downtown bars and restaurants. Metro officers also were checking younger-looking passers-by in an effort to weed out underage drinkers.
The Metro effort was undoubtedly aided by the fact that unlike most first Friday’s in recent memory, there simply weren’t that many people downtown. That was despite “BikeFest” held in the adjacent Fremont Street Experience, the canopied downtown area. Police were checking all IDs for those entering the FSE.
Despite a handful of arrests, it was “a very quiet weekend, especially with two big events,” said Laura Meltzer, Metro spokeswoman.
Police in the district east of Las Vegas Boulevard, told CityLife around 11 p.m. that there had been few arrests and no trouble to speak of. Again, unlike other nights when police could build large piles of confiscated beer bottles, wine glasses and other containers of alcohol, people moving between the bars were careful to leave their liquor in the bars.
That cautious behavior came despite a decision by Las Vegas city officials reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal last week to toss more than 1,300 open-container violations from previous liquor-law crackdowns downtown. The law specifies that open containers are a violation if the alcohol is in its original “sealed or corked” container, but many people were cited for carrying glassware with suspicious liquids.
Despite the clarification of the law, Metro officers were having none of it: in the late night hours last Friday, no glasses, cans or bottles were allowed into the Fremont district, and trying to sneak them through would get you a $300 citation.
The latest effort at stepped-up enforcement is a response to reports of teen drinking, fighting and unruly crowds in the district and came just a couple of days after the Las Vegas City Council voted 6-0 for a downtown curfew.
The rule kicks out young people under 18 from being in the area bound my Main Street, Maryland Parkway, Stewart Avenue and Bridger Avenue from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., with some limited exceptions.
Metzler said officers gave verbal warning to some groups of young people who somehow hadn’t heard of the new restrictions. Citations will come at a later date, she said.
The curfew law was imposed at the request of Metro, which originally asked for a larger area to be restricted, from Sahara Avenue to U.S. 95, and Interstate 15 to Eastern Avenue. Civil liberties groups and young people complained that the larger footprint, which originally would have included the area where the First Friday music and arts celebration goes on between Main Street and Casino Center, would have unfairly included residential areas in which young people might live and work.
Mayor Carolyn Goodman said the law was all about the kids, and keeping them away from the drunks and drugs on Fremont Street.
“We need to protect our children here in our community,” she said. “Young people naturally are drawn to where there’s action and excitement and people doing things.”
Councilman Ricki Barlow, whose district includes much of downtown, noted that the law had been scaled back: “We really narrowed the scope of where the problem existed.”
That reduction also eliminated some of the residential areas that would have been included in the old footprint.
Councilman Bob Coffin, whose district covers the rest of the downtown area, agreed.
“It’s not against children, that’s for sure… These are kids that can get hurt. This is an adult venue with a lot of drinking going on.”
Barlow said a larger issue for the council is “what kind of downtown do we want?” He said the curfew was a move in the direction of designating downtown as a place for adults, rather than families and children.
“I don’t believe we can serve both the youth and the adults,” he said.
Police have the discretion to charge curfew violators and deliver them to their parents, put them in juvenile detention or release them altogether.
Last week, the organizers of the First Friday art walk and musical event, which has not had the same trouble with unruly crowds or underage drinkers, emphasized that their event was not connected to the ad-hoc troubles on or near Fremont Street.
Contact Launce Rake at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3843. Follow @Launce at Twitter.