City alters retail area curfew rules

By Mike Genet

To try to deter large gatherings of youths milling around and scuffling at Independence Center and nearby retail and commercial areas, Independence officials have altered some curfew guidelines in the City Code.

Among the changes, which the City Council unanimously approved Monday, are that the age of minors under curfew guidelines goes from 17 to 18, the Friday and Saturday youth curfew goes from midnight to 11 p.m., and specific language for “loiter or play in …” has been added. Also, a curfew for 9 p.m. applies to the so-called “I70/M291 District,” which includes the mall and surrounding retail area along 39th Street, Cable Dahmer Arena and the surrounding retail area and the area including Bass Pro Shops and Main Event entertainment center.

The curfew is for unaccompanied minors and would not apply for those running an emergency errand for parents/guardians, returning from work or leaving an organized school, recreational or sporting event or ticketed concert.

Discussion for such changes kicked into gear after police had to disperse a large, rowdy gathering near a mall entrance a couple weeks ago.

In a social media post, Independence Police said they estimated about 300 juveniles had been “causing problems and getting into multiple fights” shortly before closing time, prompting police to call for outside assistance to break it up. Police said they were at a point of “zero tolerance” regarding incidents at the mall.

Currently, the mall closes at 7 each evening, except for 6 p.m. Sundays. Independence Police have two full-time officers over the course of a week at their mall substation, and the mall also employs some off-duty officers as part of security.

Independence Police Spokesperson John Syme said police did speak with mall management as they crafted the curfew changes and plan to work with other nearby businesses on the matter.

“We know most of these kids are 14-15 years old, they get Uber and Lyft rides to the mall and most are from outside Independence,” Independence Deputy Police Chief Ken Jarnigan told the City Council about the many of the minors causing problems. Police arrive to break up disturbances, and the youths then scatter around the surrounding commercial area, “and it zaps our resources,” he added.

Police then call parents for pick-up, Jarnigan said, “and the parents are as uncooperative as the kids.”

Police also got called several months ago to break up a large gathering at Main Event, though Jarnigan said the arena has not been a problem spot for police.

The existing City Code cites parents/guardians for neglecting supervision or condoning/assisting delinquent acts and curfew violations.

Offending minors are referred to youth court, while parents/guardians can be subject to a municipal court fine up to $500 or up to six months in jail, if police ultimately determine they’re in violation. Parents/guardians can avoid that punishment by enrolling the minor in a police-sponsored voluntary curfew program and enrolling themselves in a parenting program.

City Manager Zach Walker said the new curfew measures are a response to the council’s concerns about the area and should be considered a step for the city, not a final action in trying to keep the area safe and inviting for people.

“I would look at the curfew ordinance as a step and not a be-all, end-all,” he told the council. “I think the conversations need to continue.”

Added Mayor Eileen Weir, “We’ll give it a try.”