Move along, nothing to do here.
Police are breaking up groups of teens in Downtown, Fort Greene, and Park Slope who they say have been wreaking havoc when school lets out ever since the fall semester started, top cops said at a community board meeting at the Ingersoll Community Center on Monday night. The crackdown consists of officers tracking groups of kids across precincts and shooing them along when crowds get big, because that is when fights start, according to the commanding officer of the 88th Precinct, which serves Fort Greene and Clinton Hill.
“The larger the crowds get, the more things start to move and shake,” said Capt. Peter Fiorillo.
The clampdown started last month after 88th Precinct brass met with top cops from Park Slope’s 78th Precinct, Downtown’s 84th Precinct, the police Transit Bureau, school safety agents, and managers from Atlantic Terminal mall, the Barclays Center, and MetroTech Center. The meeting of the minds took place in the MetroTech office of the pro-business Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. The main consideration of that brainstorming session was figuring out how to relay information to monitor youngsters as they move across jurisdictions, Fiorillo said.
“We wanted to figure out how to coordinate and give updates as the crowds come through the area,” Fiorillo said.
Police called the meeting after a group of teens brawled with cops in the plaza in front of the Barclays Center in mid-September, disrupting a Brooklyn Emerging Arts in Theater Festival concert, and footage of the melee was posted to YouTube. Fiorillo blamed the concert, but DNAinfo reported that witnesses and organizers said the kids were unconnected to the event.
“That was little music festival that spiraled a bit out of control,” Fiorillo said.
The agreed-upon tactic that came out of the police-and-business powwow is for officers to cruise around ordering gatherings of teens to disperse.
“They come out of school and stick around,” said Capt. Sergio Centa, the 84th Precinct commander. “We want to get them home.”
When asked what the legal basis is for demanding people leave public sidewalks, Fiorillo declined to provide one.
“The point is not to make arrests,” Fiorillo said. “We don’t want to do that. We just want them to keep moving.”
Fiorillo said he understands why kids want to hang out after school, but he said when groups stick around too long, mischief starts.
“We know they’re kids. We know they’ve been pent up in school all day,” he said. “But the stagnant crowds cause our fights.”
Another issue is that once a gathering starts, word of it spreads online and draws youths from outside the neighborhood, Fiorillo said.
“The message gets out quick,” he said. “We have kids from as far away as East New York.”
A civil rights lawyer who often sues the Police Department blasted the policy, saying it violates teens’ First Amendment right to freedom of assembly and Fourth Amendment right to freedom from discrimination based on their age.
“It’s straight up unconstitutional,” said David Rankin, of the law firm Rankin and Taylor.
Simply asking kids to move along would be allowed, but for police to legally order teens to disperse, the group would have to be totally blocking sidewalk or road traffic, he said. Officers would never try it with another type of person that gives them agita, he added.
“Just because someone happens to be young and in a group is not a reason to harass them,” he said. “If there were 20 civil rights attorneys talking on a sidewalk, do you think they’d be asked to move along?”
The anti-hangout initiative sparked a public relations battle last week after a Park Slope resident at a police community council meeting reported cops telling black teens to “get out of the neighborhood,” according to DNAinfo. At that meeting, Park Slope’s commanding officer blamed “outside people” for committing “most of the crimes” in the neighborhood, the website’s report states.
Police did not dispute the substance of the “get out of the neighborhood” exchange, but later claimed officers didn’t say the word “neighborhood,” and that they were responding to a fight and told the kids to “go home,” the New York Daily News reported.
Tensions between police and kids came to a head Downtown in March, when police trying to oust high schoolers from a Chinese restaurant met resistance and, in the altercation that ensued, one officer pushed a 15-year-old girl through a picture window and fell through after her, according to police and witnesses. A hundred teens stormed Jay Street after the incident, onlookers said.